ROME – Just as the Italian parliament is gearing up to launch a large-scale investigation of the infamous “Vatican girl” case, Pope Francis has repeated his own desire that the truth surrounding the 1983 disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi should emerge.

“In the Vatican, we are still suffering greatly from the disappearance, more than forty years ago, of one of our citizens, Emanuela Orlandi, who was fifteen years old at the time,” the pope said.

“I continue to pray for her and her family, especially her mother,” Francis said. “An inquiry has been opened at the Vatican, in order to shed light on the story and bring out the truth.”

“As far as Emanuela is concerned, though, I would like every family that is mourning the loss of one of their own to feel my closeness. I am at their side,” he said.”

The pope’s comments come in the new book Life: My Story Through History, a semi-autobiographical treatment of the pontiff’s life in conversation with Italian journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona.

For decades, the Orlandi case has been perhaps the most notorious unresolved mystery story regarding the Vatican, as well as a perennial source of speculation and conspiracy theories.

The daughter of a minor official of the Vatican’s Prefecture of the Papal Household, whose family lived in an apartment on Vatican grounds, Orlandi vanished after a music lesson on June 22, 1983. Over the years, her disappearance has been variously linked to the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, Cold War intrigue, the Italian mafia and the Vatican bank scandals, and, more recently, to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, though to date none of those theories has been confirmed.

The case drew renewed notoriety from an October 2022 four-part miniseries on Netflix titled “Vatican Girl,” which renewed public pressure in Italy for efforts to find the truth.

In January 2023, the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, veteran Italian attorney Alessandro Diddi, announced that he was opening a new investigation of the case, and shortly thereafter, the chief prosecutor for the city of Rome, Francesco Lo Voi, likewise said his office would launch its own probe.

In the meantime, Orlandi’s older brother, Pietro, who’s devoted his life to the quest for the truth about his sister’s disappearance, also called for an parliamentary panel to look into the case, in part on the grounds that such a body would be less inclined to be deferential to the Vatican.

After delays related to controversial comments by Pietro Orlandi linking St. John Paul II to rumors of a pedophile ring operating inside the Vatican at the time of his sister’s disappearance, the parliament finally approved the new commission in December. Its mandate includes not only Orlandi, but also the simultaneous disappearance of another teenage girl in Rome named Mirella Gregori, whose case has long been linked to Orlandi’s.

On Thursday, the forty-member commission, composed of representatives of all the country’s major political parties, elected its leadership. Presiding over the panel will be Senator Andrea De Priamo, a 52-year-old member of the governing conservative Fratelli d’Italia (“Brothers of Italy”) party of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

In comments to reporters after his election, De Priamo said he intends to take the role seriously.

“I’ll try to do a serious, analytical and attentive job, in order to make an important contribution to the search for the truth,” he said, adding that he wants the new commission “not to be a venue for polemics or theater, because this case probably already had enough of that, but of serious conversation and investigation.”

“There’s very lengthy and complex documentation,” De Priamo said. “In this case, there have been false and mistaken leads … in this thicket, we’ll try to put things in order and create a working method, which I’ll try to do together with both the majority and the opposition.”

Of special note is the fact that also sitting on the commission is Italian Senator Carlo Calenda, leader of the small centrist Action Party, who’s been outspokenly critical of what he sees as Vatican stonewalling on the case.

“By now, it’s clear that the Vatican knows perfectly well that happened to this poor 15-year-old girl,” Calenda wrote in a Facebook post in November 2022, shortly after the “Vatican Girl” documentary aired.

“It’s a duty of the Italian state to demand the truth,” he wrote. “The degree of obstinance and arrogance of the Vatican hierarchy, even in the face of documentary evidence that attests to the involvement of the Holy See, is unacceptable.”

“We’re a secular state, not a community of vassals of the Church,” Calenda said.

Pietro Orlandi, who had stood outside the senate headquarters on Thursday awaiting the results of the leadership decisions, welcomed the result.

“I’m not looking to the past,” he said. “Today what’s important is that the commission is underway, together with that of the Vatican and of the Procurator of Rome.”

Maria Antonietta Gregori, the sister of Mirella, struck a similarly optimistic note.

“After so many months of waiting for the work to start, today I’m content. Let’s hope it’s a good start and that they do everything possible to find the truth,” describing the commission as her family’s “last stand.”