A mystery in the Vat­i­can

The dis­cov­ery of bones in the Holy See’s em­bassy has put Italy on ten­ter­hooks, writes Paddy Agnew in Rome

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Front Page - PADDY AGNEW

THIS is the Holy See’s very own ‘cold case’, the one that re­fuses to go away. The dis­cov­ery of bone frag­ments in the Vat­i­can nun­cia­ture to Italy in Rome 10 days ago has prompted re­newed spec­u­la­tion about the dis­ap­pear­ance 35 years ago of 15-year-old Vat­i­can ci­ti­zen Emanuela Or­landi.

This is one of those never-end­ing, seem­ingly in­ex­pli­ca­ble Ital­ian mys­ter­ies which, like the Agatha Christie play The Mouse­trap, seems to run and run ad in­fini­tum. But this is no the­atri­cal en­ter­tain­ment. Rather, it con­cerns the dis­ap­pear­ance of a girl who on a June day in 1983 left her fam­ily home in Vat­i­can City to go to her flute les­son and never came back.

Emanuela’s dis­ap­pear­ance, by turns and in dif­fer­ent ways, has in­volved the Holy See, Pope John Paul II and Pope Fran­cis, the Vat­i­can Bank, the 1982 col­lapse of Banco Am­brosiano, the Ro­man crim­i­nal un­der­world, the Stasi, the East Ger­man se­cret po­lice, and even Turkish gun­man Ali Agca, the man who at­tempted to as­sas­si­nate John Paul II in St Peter’s Square in 1981. And those are only just a few of the peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions which fea­ture in this puz­zling story.

To go back to the be­gin­ning — on the af­ter­noon of June 22, 1983, Emanuela, daugh­ter of a Vat­i­can func­tionary, left the fam­ily apart­ment in Vat­i­can City to go to her flute les­son in a mu­sic school in Pi­azza di Sant’Apol­linare, cen­tral Rome.

Ac­cord­ing to a num­ber of wit­nesses, on her way to the les­son Emanuela was stopped by a man who of­fered her money to do some PR work for a cos­met­ics com­pany dur­ing a forth­com­ing fash­ion show in Rome.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter her les­son, Emanuela rang home, telling her sis­ter Natalina about the strange work of­fer and ask­ing her what she should do. Her sis­ter told her to agree to noth­ing but rather to wait un­til she got home and could talk to their par­ents about the al­leged job of­fer. That was the last time that any mem­ber of the Or­landi fam­ily ever spoke to Emanuela. She has never been seen or heard since.

Emanuela re­mains one of the great ‘mis­teri’ (un­re­solved mys­ter­ies) of mod­ern Ital­ian his­tory, to rank along­side the 1978 Red Bri­gade killing of for­mer Ital­ian prime min­is­ter Aldo Moro, or the 1980 Bologna train sta­tion bomb­ing in which 85 peo­ple died, or the 1980 Us­tica plane ex­plo­sion in which “a stray mis­sile” killed 81 peo­ple. Nor does the list end there.

The most re­cent re­turn of this par­tic­u­lar cold case was prompted by the news that the Holy See had re­ported to Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties the dis­cov­ery of bone frag­ments dur­ing ren­o­va­tion work at its Rome em­bassy to the Ital­ian state. (As a sov­er­eign state, the Vat­i­can main­tains an em­bassy in ‘for­eign’, ie Ital­ian ter­ri­tory).

No sooner had this news hit the air­waves and al­ready there was spec­u­la­tion that the bones found un­der the em­bassy floor­ing might be those of Emanuela. When it then emerged that fur­ther bone frag­ments had been dis­cov­ered, sug­gest­ing that more than one per­son had been buried in the em­bassy, the me­dia promptly spec­u­lated that the other bones might be­long to Mirella Gre­gori, an­other Ro­man teenager who has been miss­ing since May 1983.

At first glance, this looks like a clas­sic case of trig­ger-happy con­spir­acy the­o­rists find­ing two and two and adding them up to make 22. As I write, the bones in ques­tion are be­ing foren­si­cally ex­am­ined but, as yet, there is no in­di­ca­tion as to who was buried in the Vat­i­can Em­bassy. In­ves­ti­ga­tors, hop­ing to ex­tract some DNA sam­ples from the bone frag­ments, may be able to ar­rive at a pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion over the next week but that is by no means cer­tain.

What­ever way this one shakes down, it is not ex­actly com­fort­able news for the Holy See. If the bones were to be those of Emanuela, it would pro­voke the fa­ther and mother of a scan­dal, con­firm­ing the claims that the Vat­i­can knows and has long known more about her dis­ap­pear­ance than it cares to ad­mit.

If, as frankly seems more prob­a­ble at this stage, the bones are the re­mains of some­one else, then an­other set of ques­tions ask them­selves. Who was buried there? When? And why, par­tic­u­larly if the bones turn out to date from re­cent times?

The fact that the Holy See is not in­sen­si­tive to this is­sue was un­der­lined last Fri­day by the Sec­re­tary of State, Car­di­nal Pietro Parolin. Speak­ing on the mar­gins of a Vat­i­can press con­fer­ence on an un­re­lated mat­ter, Car­di­nal Parolin told re­porters: “It wasn’t the Holy See which made the con­nec­tion to Emanuela Or­landi. I don’t know who has linked this mat­ter to the Or­landi case...”

Car­di­nal Parolin added that it was a mat­ter of sim­ple trans­parency that the Vat­i­can im­me­di­ately in­formed Ital­ian po­lice, ask­ing for their ex­pert help, say­ing the Vat­i­can “has al­ways done ev­ery­thing it can to dis­cover the truth”.

Given that Emanuela’s fa­ther worked in the Vat­i­can, there has al­ways been a line of spec­u­la­tion which ar­gues that she was kid­napped, ab­ducted and pre­sum­ably killed by fig­ures in Rome’s crim­i­nal un­der­world, prob­a­bly the in­fa­mous Banda della Magliana, in an ac­tion that was in some way linked to the Vat­i­can Bank.

The Banda della Magliana, al­legedly linked both to neo-fas­cist right-wing ac­tivists and Ital­ian se­cret ser­vices, is be­lieved to have lost money lodged in the Vat­i­can Bank, the IOR.

The Vat­i­can Bank had seemed like a safe place to lodge money — but that was with­out reck­on­ing on the machi­na­tions of ‘God’s Banker’, Roberto Calvi, and of IOR’s gov­er­nor, a cer­tain US car­di­nal called Paul Marcinkus, the guy who used to say: “You can’t run the church on Hail Marys.”

The IOR was the main share­holder in Banco Am­brosiano and when it went down in a $1.3bn col­lapse in 1982, the IOR also lost money, in­clud­ing the ill-got­ten gains of the ‘Magliana’ (per­haps the equiv­a­lent of €10m).

The con­spir­acy the­ory then sug­gests that in or­der to scare Car­di­nal Marcinkus and force the IOR to re­pay the monies ‘owed’, the banda kid­napped Emanuela. Next time, it will be you, Car­di­nal Marcinkus. That the Banda della Magliana was in some way linked to the Vat­i­can seems to have been proved by the remarkable dis­cov­ery in 2012 that one of its mur­dered god­fa­thers, En­rico De Pedis, was found to have been buried in the Basil­ica of Sant’Apol­linare, in cen­tral Rome.

This is just one of the many con­spir­acy the­o­ries which have whirled and dervished around the Or­landi af­fair for the last 35 years. From the mo­ment that her fam­ily put up miss­ing posters all around Rome in the weeks af­ter her dis­ap­pear­ance, the case has prompted a be­wil­der­ing variety of claims and counter-claims.

In the weeks af­ter Emanuela’s dis­ap­pear­ance, the Or­landi fam­ily re­ceived a num­ber of phone calls in re­sponse to the posters which had given the fam­ily’s phone num­bers. In par­tic­u­lar, there were calls from dif­fer­ent sources link­ing the school­girl’s kid­nap to Mehmet Ali Agca — then in an Ital­ian prison fol­low­ing his 1981 at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Pope John Paul II. The sug­ges­tion was that the Grey Wolves, the Turkish or­gan­i­sa­tion of which Agca was a mem­ber, was in­volved in the kid­nap­ping.

Even if Agca in 2010 con­firmed this ver­sion to Pietro Or­landi, Emanuela’s brother, even telling him that she was still alive, the cred­i­bil­ity of those claims was com­pletely un­der­mined when an ex-Stasi, agent, Gunter Bohn­sack, said the Stasi had en­tirely in­vented the “Turkish con­nec­tion” merely to dis­tract at­ten­tion from the in­volve­ment of Eastern Bloc se­cret ser­vices in Agca’s at­tempted killing of John Paul II. In short, the plot not so much thick­ens as be­comes ut­terly opaque.

Pietro Or­landi re­mains con­vinced that the Vat­i­can knows more about this tragic case than it has so far re­vealed. In the last week, he has said that “he who is silent, is an ac­com­plice”, in a ref­er­ence to both the church and to Pope Fran­cis.

One fi­nal thought con­cerns the reflections of Andrea Pur­ga­tori, an in­ves­tiga­tive TV jour­nal­ist who as a young re­porter cov­ered the Or­landi dis­ap­pear­ance. He has said that his sources back in 1983 sug­gested that the kid­nap­ping had gone wrong and that Emanuela had been killed al­most im­me­di­ately.

Which would sug­gest that the hoax phone calls, the pro­posed ex­change of ‘pris­on­ers’, the Grey Wolves spec­u­la­tion, the spec­u­la­tion that Emanuela had been drugged by crim­i­nals work­ing for a pae­dophile ring and much, much else be­sides was merely the work of peo­ple, crim­i­nals and oth­ers, try­ing to ex­ploit a par­tic­u­larly lurid band­wagon.

At this stage, we can come to only one con­clu­sion. Emanuela may be alive or dead, we can­not know for cer­tain. The story of her dis­ap­pear­ance, how­ever, has clearly not ended. In Italy, sto­ries like this never seem to go away.

‘It wasn’t the Holy See which made the con­nec­tion to Emanuela’

LONG-RUN­NING RID­DLE: Two by­standers look­ing at a ‘miss­ing’ poster for Emanuela Or­landi in 1983

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