ROME – As the fortieth anniversary of the disappearance of the “Vatican Girl” approaches on June 22, new fault lines appear to be opening up in what had, not long ago, seemed a fairly friendly rapport among the Vatican, Italian authorities and the family of Emanuela Orlandi about how best to get to the truth.
Last week, the Italian Senate held a hearing about a proposal to open a parliamentary inquest into the case, as well as that of Mirella Gregorio, another teenage girl who disappeared in May 1983, one month before Orlandi.
The Vatican announced in January the opening of its own investigation into the Orlandi case, followed shortly by the Procurator of Rome, in effect the city’s chief prosecutor. Both came in the wake of a highly rated Netflix series titled “Vatican Girl” about Orlandi, who was 15 at the time of her disappearance in 1983 and the daughter of a minor employee of the Papal Household.
A bill to create a parliamentary investigation has already passed the Italian lower house, but presently appears stalled in the senate. Over the years, the fate of Orlandi has become a national obsession in Italy, with pressure building anew around the anniversary next week.
The June 6 hearing of a senate committee on constitutional affairs exposed clear differences between the Vatican and the Orlandi family, including their attorney Laura Sgrò, about how best to proceed. Those contrasts surfaced anew when Sgrò appeared on a popular Italian television program on June 13, and will be affirmed at length when her new book, Cercando Emanuela (“Seeking Emanuela”) is released June 20.
To begin with, the Vatican objected to the manner in which a senate committee summoned the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, lay Italian attorney Alessandro Diddi, to give testimony.
Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, deposited a formal letter of protest with the committee.
“The summons was not correct either in form or substance,” Parolin wrote, insisting that if the senate wants information from an official of a foreign state, then it needs to follow the protocols laid out in international law.
Giuseppe Pignatone, the chief justice of the Vatican City State’s civil tribunal, also expressed concern about a codicil of the draft law creating the commission which calls for “promoting actions with foreign states, aimed at obtaining documents or other evidence in their possession that is useful for the reconstruction of the story.”
The suggestion appeared to be that such language amounts to a call for bringing political pressure to bear on the Vatican.
Nevertheless, Diddi agreed to appear before the committee, and he expressed opposition to the creation of a parliamentary inquest.
“I believe that in this moment to open a third investigation that follows a different logic and method from the judicial authorities would be pernicious interference for the authenticity of the investigations that are underway,” Diddi said.
“Unfortunately, an excess of interest from public opinion can constitute a pollution of the authenticity of the work that we’re performing in collaboration with the Procurator of Rome,” Diddi said.
Pietro Orlandi, the brother of Emanuela who’s dedicated his life to publicizing his sister’s case, called Diddi’s comments a “bad sign” and “extremely serious.”
“I hope that the parliament does not give in to these ‘suggestions’ and continues on the line already indicated by the vote in the [lower house]. A step back and a renunciation of the commission would not be a good signal from Parliament to all Italians,” he tweeted.
Ironically, many observers believe Pietro Orlandi is primarily responsible for the stall in creating a parliamentary commission.
Earlier this year, the senate appeared set to follow the example of the Italian House of Deputies. But in mid-April, Orlandi went on national television and played an audio recording of an ex-mobster alleging that the late Pope John Paul II had connived in the operation of a pedophile ring inside the Vatican, and that Emanuela may have been killed to cover it up.
Backlash against those comments, including twice from Pope Francis, led some senators to withdraw support for the project.
During her appearance on the TV program “DiMartedi” on June 13, Sgrò echoed the call for the commission to go forward, saying she heard Diddi’s comments with “great surprise, and, I’ll add, a certain displeasure.”
“After forty years, this is our last chance,” she said.
“There won’t ever again be a circumstance in which parliament and two judiciaries open a case. It’s not just that we owe the family an answer, but the entire country,” Sgrò said.
“Time is the worst enemy of the truth,” she said. “I don’t know where these other two investigations are going. In my opinion, we need the commission of inquest too, it’s necessary.”
Sgrò suggested that the new investigations focus on the possibility that Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance was related to sexual abuse, citing an interview from the Netflix series in which an unidentified friend of Emanuela claimed that Orlandi said just days before her disappearance that she’d been sexually molested in the Vatican gardens by someone close to the pope.
That lead, Sgrò said, “has only been chatted about up until now, never really investigated.”
Sgrò added that for the Orlandi family, the passage of time has not lessened their feelings of loss. She noted that Pietro Orlandi’s children, for example, all refer to “Aunt Emanuela.”
“She’s an active, living presence of great strength [for them],” Sgrò said. “If you didn’t know better, you’d think they just saw her last week.”