Kidnapping case remains a mystery

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VATICAN CITY - Almost 30 years after the still-unexplained disappearance of a teenage girl who lived with her family at the Vatican, the Holy See continues to be willing to cooperate with efforts to solve the mystery, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi issued a three-page statement April 14 recalling how often Pope John Paul II appealed for the release of Emanuela Orlandi after her presumed kidnapping in 1983 and how top Vatican officials formally answered investigators' questions then and in subsequent investigations carried out in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

The Vatican, he said, even allowed the Italian intelligence service to monitor calls to the Vatican switchboard and gave it access to the Orlandi family's Vatican telephone line and to their apartment. The girl's father was a papal usher.

Because she lived inside the Vatican and no trace of her was ever found, Orlandi's case has been an obsession for Italian conspiracy theorists, some of whom have tried to link the case to the Freemasons, the Soviets or to victims of the 1982 collapse of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano, which had close ties to the Vatican Bank.

Italian authorities recently began looking into the possibility that the girl's disappearance had something to do with a Rome-based organized crime group. Father Lombardi repeated the church's offer to allow the exhumation and transfer of the body of Enrico De Pedis, boss of the Magliana gang. He was shot to death in 1990 and, several years later, it was discovered that he was buried in Rome's Basilica of St. Apollinare, which is considered Vatican property.

Whatever connection De Pedis may or may not have had to the Orlandi case, Father Lombardi said the church has no objection to the inspection of the tomb and the reburial elsewhere of the De Pedis' body "to reestablish the correct serenity corresponding to a sacred environment."

But the prevailing theory of the crime has long held that Orlandi was kidnapped by a group connected to Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk captured in St. Peter's Square moments after shooting Pope John Paul II in 1981 and later convicted of attempted murder. The suspicion was strengthened by several letters signed by the "Turkish Anti-Christian Turkesh Liberation Front," which said Orlandi would be freed if Agca were released from prison.

Father Lombardi's statement April 14 said that because of those messages and because investigations into Agca's actions were ongoing at that time, Vatican authorities "shared the prevailing opinion that the kidnapping was being used by an obscure criminal organization to send messages or exert pressure in relations to the incarceration and questioning of the pope's assailant."

"There was no reason to think of any other possible motives for the kidnapping," Father Lombardi said.

Agca was extradited from Italy to Turkey in 2000 and served a 10-year sentence for the 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist and two robberies. He was released in 2010.

Father Lombardi also said that while the Orlandi case has been reopened several times and keeps garnering media attention, people should show some concern for other Italians who disappear without a trace each year.

The renewed attention to Orlandi's disappearance should not be an occasion to blame the Vatican for something it is not guilty of, he said, but should be "an occasion to become aware of the terrible and often forgotten reality of disappearances - particularly of the young - and for everyone, with all their strength, to oppose all criminal activity" connected to kidnappings.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970