Human Bones Found in Vatican-Owned Building in Rome

by David Nussman  •  •  October 31, 2018   

Human remains found in the basement of Italy's apostolic nunciature, speculation ensues

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ROME ( - Human remains have been found on a Church property in Rome, and some speculate they are connected to a decades-old missing person case.

The papal nunciature in Rome was undergoing renovations when human bones were uncovered in the basement on Monday.

The building, located outside Vatican City, is the residence of the Pope's nuncio, or ambassador, to Italy.

At the moment, almost nothing is known about the person whose remains were discovered, and forensic testing will be used to determine the person's age and sex.

There is speculation that the remains could belong to Emanuela Orlandi, a teenage girl in the 1980s who mysteriously went missing.

Emanuela was the daughter of Ercole Orlandi, a lay official at the Vatican. She went missing in 1983 at the age of 15.

At the time, it was thought that she was possibly kidnapped. In the years that followed, investigators became almost certain that it was a kidnapping.

A wide variety of theories have swirled about her likely kidnapping and potential death.

Shortly after Emanuela vanished, there were anonymous tips by two young men, "Pietroluigi" and "Mario." Each of them claimed he had spoken with a young woman who fit the description. They both provided accurate details about Emanuela's appearance and behavior. A few days later, Pope St. John Paul II appealed for the girl's release, as there were suspicions that she had been kidnapped.

Photo of Emanuela Orlandi playing the flute.

After that, there began a series of phone messages claiming Emanuela was taken hostage as a bargaining chip for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who had tried to assassinate Pope St. John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in 1981. The men making these calls claimed that "Mario" and "Pietroluigi" were actually fellow members of their terrorist group who planted false leads.

Given the Cold War going on at the time — which, in Italy, sometimes burst out into political violence — it was thought that these anonymous callers were part of a communist group.

But some theorize Emanuela was actually murdered by the Banda della Magliana (the Magliana gang), a notoriously ruthless criminal organization in Rome. It is speculated that her father, Ercole, had stumbled across damning evidence of corruption in the Vatican Bank that implicated the gang, and they killed his daughter as a warning for him to be quiet. In 2008, a source told the police that she thought Emanuela was killed by Magliana gangsters at the orders of Abp. Paul Marcinkus, who was then head of the Vatican Bank.

The Vatican has been accused of a cover-up in connection to the girl's disappearance. Giancarlo Capaldo, a senior Italian prosecutor on the case, said in 2012, "There are people still alive, and still inside the Vatican, who know the truth."

Also in 2012, Rome's chief exorcist said the girl's disappearance was likely connected to a sex abuse ring. Exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth (who died in 2016) told La Stampa, "This was a crime with a sexual motive. Parties were organized, with a Vatican gendarme acting as the 'recruiter' of the girls."

Father Amorth continued, "The network involved diplomatic personnel from a foreign embassy to the Holy See. I believe Emanuela ended up a victim of this circle."

There was a lot of hype in Italy in 2012 when police investigated a tip that Emanuela's body had been placed next to the corpse of Enrico de Pedis, a murdered Italian gangster who headed the Banda della Magliana. Police opened up de Pedis' coffin (in the crypt of a cathedral) and did not find the girl's body. The gangster was buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in central Rome. An unknown body was found in the crypt, but it was determined to be from over a century ago.

That same year, Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi claimed he obtained a five-page memo from a locked cabinet inside the Vatican that implicated Church leaders for hiding information about the teenage girl's kidnapping. However, even Fittipaldi had his doubts about the document's authenticity.

Still more speculation ran wild in 2013 when Pope Francis, then recently elected, told family members of the missing person, "Emanuela is in Heaven." Emanuela's brother, Pietro, told the Pope that he was still hopeful that his sister would be found alive one day. After the encounter, Pietro started wondering whether Pope Francis secretly knew his sister's fate, and accidentally let the goose out. But many thought Pope Francis was just trying to offer comfort and chose the wrong thing to say.

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