ROME—Nearly 40 years after a teen girl whose father worked inside the Vatican disappeared from an Opus Dei church in the Italian capital, her family might finally get some answers.
This week, Italian lawmakers filed a petition for a parliamentary inquest into the 1983 disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, whose conspiracy-theory laden case was recently the subject of the Netflix docuseries “Vatican Girl.” The four-part series brought renewed attention to the case, with Netflix using the original missing person posters plastered around Rome as its advertising for the documentary.
The petition also calls for an inquest into the case of another missing girl, 15-year-old Mirella Gregori, who disappeared in Rome a month before Orlandi, and the murder of 21-year-old Simonetta Cesaroni, who was beaten to death in Rome in 1990 under suspicious circumstances. All three are Italy’s most talked about cold cases.
A similar petition will also be filed in Italy’s senate, which could easily pass if Italy’s new right-wing government doesn’t quash it.
Orlandi’s disappearance has been tied to everything from the mob to the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. There have been confessions, tips, and a plethora of sightings, including one in a convent in the U.K. that turned out to be yet another false lead.
Parliamentary inquiries, which are often passed to investigate organized crime and financial crimes, are common in Italy. It is unclear if this would pass both houses of parliament, but if it does, it would send a clear signal to the Vatican that suspicions still linger over the matter. As the Netflix series pointed out, just as many other documentaries have over the last four decades, all roads in the case seem to lead squarely to the Holy See.
Three popes have, in fact, worked to appease the Orlandi family, whose matriarch still lives in the Vatican apartment inside the fortified walls where the family lived when Orlandi went missing. They have exhumed tombs, unearthed archives, and prayed with the family.
But the parliamentary inquiry would ask them to open the archives, including phone records and movement of people, in the days and months after Orlandi went missing. A number of people called a hotline giving tips, but the Orlandi family says Vatican men came into answer calls in their private apartment in the days after.
The most oft-repeated conspiracy in the case is that Orlandi’s father knew something he shouldn’t have, and his daughter was taken as a warning. Other conspiracies include the theory that a local crime gang, which had invested its money in the Vatican Bank, took her for leverage to get their money back, or that it was tied to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland the day she disappeared, where he addressed a crowd of Solidarity followers (themselves rumored to have been funded by Vatican money with ties to the mafia).
Opposition Senator Carlo Calenda told a news conference Tuesday that the inquest would show Italy’s strength against the powerful Holy See. “We must restore a principle that the Italian state has great respect for the Vatican and its role as a sovereign state for its spiritual teaching but is in no way submissive to the Vatican state,” he said. “Italy is a secular republic that is based on popular sovereignty and interacts on equal footing with the Vatican state.”
The Vatican, as its own sovereign nation, would not be compelled to comply with any subpoenas that might arise from an inquest. But Pietro Orlandi, the missing girl’s brother who has made it his life’s work to keep her case alive in the media, said the pressure “just might finally break the wall of silence.”