Vatican prosecutors to meet with brother of teenage girl who vanished in the 1980s

Interest in the case was reignited by an October 2022 Netflix documentary, 'Vatican Girl,' featuring new testimony from a friend of the missing teen claiming she had revealed that a high-ranking Vatican clergyman had made unwanted sexual advances.

ROME (RNS) — Vatican prosecutors will meet with the brother of Emanuela Orlandi, the teenage daughter of a Vatican employee and resident who went missing nearly 40 years ago.

In a statement on Good Friday (April 7), Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Vatican prosecutors will meet Tuesday with Pietro Orlandi to submit “his own statements and offer any information in his possession” regarding his sister’s disappearance on June 22, 1983.

The prosecutor’s office “confirms the Holy See’s willingness to shed light on the affair, also in light of Pietro Orlandi’s recent statements, by taking every possible action in order to arrive at an accurate reconstruction of the events,” Bruni said Friday.

In an April 4 interview with the Italian TV news program “Di Martedi,” Orlandi said he would present prosecutors with documents and messages that shed light on his sister’s disappearance.

Among the documents, he claimed, is correspondence between a “high-ranking member of the Church of England” and the late Cardinal Ugo Poletti, who served as vicar general of the Diocese of Rome from 1973 until 1991, in which the young girl is mentioned.

Pietro speculated that his sister’s disappearance may have involved a conspiracy to cover up the abuse of minors by Vatican clerics and claimed that it may even involve “people above the cardinals,” meaning St. John Paul II, who was pope at the time.

The family welcomed the invitation to speak to Vatican prosecutors and expressed their hope that “it will be a fruitful moment of sharing, of searching for the truth.”

“We will bring all the information we have to the prosecutor with the intention of sharing it,” the family told Italian news agency Adnkronos through their lawyer, Laura Sgro. “We hope and believe in the pope’s will to clarify things. We are available to the prosecutor’s office in a clear, collaborative spirit. The intention is to bring Emanuela home, dead or alive. After 40 years, she must come home.” 

Long the subject of conspiracy theories and speculation, the case came back to public attention in 2019 when Sgro revealed the family had been sent an anonymous letter. 

The letter contained a photo of an angel above a tomb in the Vatican’s Teutonic cemetery, which houses tombs now reserved for German-speaking priests and members of religious orders.

It instructed the family to, “Look where the angel is pointing,” prompting Sgro to file a formal petition with the Vatican to investigate. The request was granted by a Vatican City State court which ordered in July 2019 the opening of the tombs indicated in the letter.

After no human remains were found in the tombs during a search July 11, the Vatican sealed off two ossuaries — vaults containing the bones of multiple persons — pending an analysis.

However, the results showed that none of the bone fragments in the ossuary dated “to the period after the end of the 1800s,” the Vatican said.

Interest in the case grew after the October 2022 release of a four-part documentary on Netflix, “Vatican Girl,” which featured new testimony from a friend of Emanuela who claimed she told her a week before her disappearance that a high-ranking Vatican clergyman made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

The documentary also presented documents allegedly taken from a safe at the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs that listed expenses incurred by the Vatican for keeping Orlandi hidden at a convent in London. 

In January, Bruni announced that prosecutors reopened the investigation into Orlandi’s disappearance based “on the requests made by the family in various places.”

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