Investigation seeks to finally solve mystery of missing ‘Vatican girl’ Emanuela Orlandi

Italy’s opposition lawmakers are seeking a parliamentary inquiry into three cold cases that have consumed the Italian public’s imagination for decades, including the 1983 disappearance of a 15-year-old girl highlighted in the Netflix documentary “Vatican Girl.”

The goal of the investigation, Senator Carlo Calenda said, would be to pressure the Vatican to finally hand over everything it knows. The disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi to Italian law enforcement, saying her long-standing official claim of ignorance was “little credible”.

“We are a great secular nation that treats the Vatican with respect, but this case certainly cannot be considered closed in this way,” Calenda said Tuesday at a press conference announcing the proposed commission.

Rome, posters from the Netflix series Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi
Posters from the Netflix series Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi appear in Rome.

Francesco Fotia/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Orlandi disappeared on June 22, 1983 after leaving her family’s apartment in the Vatican to attend a music lesson in Rome. Her father was a lay employee of the Holy See.

The Italian media and her brother Pietro Orlanti’s search for answers have kept her disappearance alive as an enduring Vatican mystery. Over the years, it has been linked to everything from the plot to assassinate St. John Paul II and a financial scandal with the Vatican bank to Rome’s criminal underworld. Netflix’s recent four-part documentary explored these scenarios.

Lawmakers and lawyers for Orlandi’s family and the two other young women whose disappearances or deaths have never been solved said Tuesday that the commission of inquiry proposal has been submitted to the lower House for a first reading and will also be tabled in the Senate.

The idea must be voted on at committee level. There was no indication how the centre-right, which enjoys a comfortable majority in both parliaments, would vote.

Parliamentary inquiries have been used in the past to investigate in depth unsolved Mafia crimes and terrorist attacks and can be activated to conduct investigations “on matters of public interest”, according to the Italian Constitution.

Such investigations are not intended to replace police investigations, but the participating members of the Italian parliament have the same powers and limitations as law enforcement authorities. Their final reports may provide sufficient new evidence, as well as political and institutional support, to justify re-opening the archived cases.

That’s the hope of Pietro Orlanti, who for 40 years has been trying to force the Vatican to tell everything it knows about his sister’s disappearance. He believes the Holy See is withholding information about the case because it may implicate high-ranking churchmen.

In 2018, the family received an anonymous tip.

“I received a letter with a picture,” Orlandi family attorney Laura Sgro told CBS News. “The letter said: ‘If you want to find Emanuela, look where the angel is looking.’ The photo was of a marble statue of an angel looking down on the graves of the German princesses in the Teutonic Cemetery. The Vatican in 2019 bowed to the family’s request and opened the tomb in a Vatican City cemetery.

Two graves were opened. the “Tomb of the Angel”, of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe who died in 1836, and the tomb of Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklemburg, who died in 1840. Members of their families, Orlandi scientists and coroners and the Vatican police were all present as the tombs were unsealed.

But the excavation turned up nothing.

Calenda, of the opposition Action party, acknowledged that a parliamentary inquiry has no subpoena power to compel Vatican authorities to cooperate or hand over records, as the Vatican is a sovereign city-state. But he said parliament would still have to force the issue, as Italy was “subservient” to the Vatican through the various contours of the Orlandi investigation.

“We need to restore the principle that the Italian state has great respect for the Vatican and its role as a sovereign state for its spiritual teaching, but in no way submits to the Vatican state,” Calenda said. Italy, he said, “is a secular democracy based on popular sovereignty and interacts equally with the Vatican State.”

The ultimate goal, according to Sgro, would be for Italian prosecutors to formally request the Vatican files with the support of an Italian parliamentary inquiry behind them. Three such requests were sent in the early years of the investigation but came back with little relevant information, he said.

Italy Disappearance of Vatican
Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, listens to her client Pietro Orlandi, brother of Manuela, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee who disappeared in 1983, during a press conference on the establishment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into Manuela Orlandi and other cold cases in Rome , December 20, 2022.

Alessandra Tarantino / AP

Sgro acknowledged that there had been four previous proposals for parliamentary commissions of inquiry to investigate Orlandi’s disappearance, but none of them got off the ground. She was optimistic, given the recent seat of a new legislature and the Catholic Church no longer holding the same political power, this time the idea would be rejected.

“The disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi is a black hole in the history of this country,” Sgro said. Urging lawmakers to approve the commission, he warned that anyone who blocks it should “tell us why in this country, after 40 years, a family can’t get justice.”

Anna Matranga contributed to this report.

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