ROME – Pope Francis Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of an Italian teenager and daughter of a former Vatican employee, offering his closeness and prayer to her family and all those with a loved one who is missing.
“In these days, we recall the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi,” the pope said, speaking to pilgrims and faithful in St. Peter’s Square following his June 25 Sunday Angelus address.
“I wish to take advantage of this circumstance to again express my closeness to the family, especially her mother, and to assure of my prayer,” he said, offering his “remembrance” to all families “who carry the pain of a dear loved one who is missing.”
Applause could be heard in the square below from a group led by Emanuela’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, who organized a sit-in at the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo to mark the anniversary. The group, carrying banners bearing Emanuela’s name and face, then processed up the Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square, where they participated in the pope’s noontime Angelus.
Emanuela, the daughter of a low-level Vatican employee, vanished without a trace on June 22, 1983, while on her way home from a music lesson.
Over the years, her disappearance has become a national obsession, and has been a source of countless conspiracies involving Italian mob, the KGB, and allegations of a Vatican pedophile ring, among many others.
Pietro Orlandi has led the charge to find the truth about what happened to his sister, and prior to Sunday’s Angelus address, had made it clear that he expected the pope to issue some sort of message about his sister.
The family’s lawyer, Laura Sgrò, also issued a statement making it clear that they expected Francis to say something during the Angelus.
In recent months, both the Vatican and the Procurator of Rome, which is essentially the city’s district attorney, have opened new investigations into Emanuela’s disappearance, and a bill is currently before the Italian senate to launch a parliamentary inquest into the Orlandi case as well as that of Mirella Gregori, another Roman teen who disappeared around the same time.
Earlier this year, Pietro, who has often accused the Vatican of knowing more that it has led on, found himself in hot water with the Vatican and Pope Francis, when, after an eight-hour meeting with Vatican prosecutors as part of their investigation, he went on national television and accused the late Pope John Paul II of complicity in pedophile ring inside the Vatican and suggested that it might have been involved in Emanuela’s disappearance.
The insinuations were met with fierce backlash from several Vatican officials and friends of the late Polish Pope, including Pope Francis, who publicly called Orlandi’s allegations “offensive and baseless.”
The insinuations also left a bad taste with some members of the Italian senate, which recently delayed a vote to create a parliamentary investigation amid growing opposition from some legislators who were offended by Pietro’s remarks.
In his comments Sunday, Francis, while addressing the family, notably did not address Pietro himself, but rather focused on the mother of the Orlandi family, who is 93.