Police open tomb as part of Vatican girl mystery

Sat, May 19, 2012, 01:00

Conspiracy theories prevail since a teenager disappeared close to the Vatican in 1983

IN A country sadly notorious for never-ending, unsolved “mysteries”, the disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi in June 1983 often seems the most far-fetched “cold case” of them all.

The Vatican, Opus Dei, Ali Agca, the Banco Ambrosiano and organised crime all feature in a grim tale that was rekindled last Monday when investigators opened the tomb of Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, a mobster with Roman gang La Banda Della Magliana in search of leads in this 29-year-old mystery.

The Orlandi case has generated a tsunami of conspiracy theories and the known hard facts are very few. Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a lay employee in the prefecture of the papal household, disappeared after her flute lesson close to the Vatican on Wednesday, June 22nd, 1983.

Various reports suggested she was seen getting into a large, dark-coloured BMW car after the lesson. In the days and weeks after her disappearance, the Orlandi family received a number of anonymous calls that appeared to link her kidnapping to the fate of Turkish gunman Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981 and who was at that time in detention in Italy.

The idea was that Emanuela was in the hands of Agca’s Grey Wolves movement and that the Italian authorities should release Agca in return for the girl. Nothing came of the anonymous phone calls, while an appeal on her behalf by John Paul during his Sunday Angelus two weeks after her disappearance achieved nothing.

Since then, the Orlandi story has been one of conspiracy theories and false sightings. In 2000, investigative magistrate Ferdinando Imposimato, a man who has handled a variety of Mafia and terrorist investigations, suggested Orlandi was alive and well and living in the Muslim community of Paris. In 2010, Ali Agca himself also said she was still alive, living as a nun in a monastery somewhere in Eastern Europe and receiving occasional visits from family members. Needless to say, there has been no confirmation of either story.

Which brings us to last Monday. Police opened the De Pedis tomb following a number of indications, mainly from media interviews with protagonists in the Magliana story, suggesting the tomb held the key to the disappearance of Emanuela. Some commentators had even speculated that perhaps it might contain the girl’s remains. In the end there was no big surprise since the tomb appears to have contained only the body of Renatino De Pedis.

However, one is entitled to ask just how De Pedis, a violent mobster who himself was shot down in a gangland killing close to the Campo Di Fiori in Rome in 1990, came to be buried in a diamond-encrusted tomb in the central Roman Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, which just happens to be beside the Opus Dei University of the Holy Cross?

How come the church afforded such a prestigious burial spot, alongside cardinals and Roman aristocrats, to a ruthless mobster? Is it true, as was recently claimed by one Italian news agency, that he was buried there because his widow had offered the then vicar of Rome, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, a “gift” of one billion lira (about €500,000)?

Was De Pedis linked in any “familial” way to Cardinal Poletti? There are no definitive answers, but many have long taken it for granted that money changed hands. Wily old life senator Giulio Andreotti, someone well connected in Holy See circles, once said: “De Pedis wasn’t a benefactor to everyone, but he was to Sant’Apollinare”.

So what was the Orlandi kidnapping all about? Was it really connected to Ali Agca? Or was it about something entirely different? In an interview with daily Il Fatto Quotidiano this week, Antonio Mancini, one-time member of the Banda della Magliana and now turned state’s witness, claimed Emanuela’s kidnapping had been “ordered” by the Sicilian Mafia.

Mancini claims the Mafia had lost more than $200 million of “laundered” money in the 1982 downfall of the Banco Ambrosiano, and they wanted it back. The main target of their frustration was a controversial American, Msgr Paul Marcinkus, one-time head of Vatican bank IOR, who involved the Vatican in the affairs of Roberto Calvi’s ill-fated Ambrosiano.

The kidnapping of Emanuela, carried out by members of the Magliana including De Pedis on a commission from the Cosa Nostra, was meant to send a “message” to the Vatican. Did the Vatican get the message? One suspects that this is one cold case that will run and run.