The Times/The Sunday Times [London, England]
December 12, 2021
By Philip Willan
[Photo above: Emanuela Orlandi vanished in June 1983]
The Vatican knows where the body of a missing Vatican schoolgirl is hidden but has refused to divulge the information to Italian authorities, a former Rome prosecutor has claimed.
Giancarlo Capaldo said two senior Vatican officials offered to help find the body of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee who vanished from a Rome street in June 1983. In return they wanted help in obtaining the removal of the body of a Rome crime boss from the crypt of a Roman basilica where he had been buried.
Ernesto “Renatino” De Pedis, a boss of the notorious Magliana Band, received the rare honour from the Catholic church after being shot dead in the city centre in 1990.
Church authorities said the burial had been allowed in recognition of his donations to Catholic charities, but it had become a growing source of embarrassment after an anonymous caller to a TV crime show suggested investigators should begin their hunt for Emanuela in De Pedis’ tomb.
In an interview due to be broadcast in a documentary on a national TV channel last night, Capaldo said he was approached by the two men in 2012 when he was acting head of the Rome prosecutor’s office. In return for his assistance with the mobster’s corpse, Capaldo sought the help of the Vatican in bringing closure to the Orlandi family.
After consulting a higher authority — the Pope at the time was Benedict XVI — the men came back and said they were ready to assist with the recovery of the missing girl’s body.
The agreement did not come to fruition however, as Capaldo was replaced by a new chief prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone, who took over the Orlandi investigation and swiftly shelved it, organising the removal of De Pedis’ body with no Vatican favour in return.
“On the other side, in the Vatican, a series of manoeuvres and secret conflicts begins, as is probably the custom in that environment, around Pope (Joseph) Ratzinger. And we know that Pope Ratzinger will resign in under a year,” Capaldo said.
The former magistrate, who handled some of Italy’s most sensitive mafia and terrorism trials, said he was ready to identify the Vatican officials if questioned by a relevant judicial authority.
“If I were summonsed in the context of a serious judicial inquiry I would say who these people were, if people other than me were present and whether the conversation was recorded,” he said.
Emanuela’s disappearance as she returned from a flute lesson in a music school attached to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare has been a cause of embarrassment for the Vatican for the past 38 years.
It has been variously linked by conspiracy theorists to sex parties in the Vatican, mafia money lost in the collapse of the church-linked Banco Ambrosiano, and negotiations for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman then in prison for an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II.
Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother and a tireless campaigner for truth on her behalf, said Capaldo’s revelations were an important step forward. The Vatican’s readiness to return the body was an implicit admission of guilt, he added.
“Their willingness to return the body means they know everything. They wanted the prosecutors to find a way to keep the Vatican out of it, to concoct a story that eliminated any responsibility on the part of the Vatican,” Orlandi told The Times.
Orlandi hopes Capaldo’s successors will take evidence from him and follow wherever it leads. “A lot will depend on the courage of the prosecutor’s office. They will have my support and all of public opinion,” he said.
Pignatone, on the other hand, had been quick to shelve Capaldo’s inquiry and had been rewarded by Pope Francis with an appointment as head of the Vatican tribunal when he retired in 2019, Orlandi said.
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi is the subject of a forthcoming Netflix documentary.