More Human Remains Found at Nunciature in Rome

by David Nussman  •  •  November 8, 2018   

More bone fragments found in Vatican-owned embassy as Italian authorities continue studying the remains

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ROME ( - More bones have been found in the Vatican nunciature in Rome, as Italian authorities have identified the first set of bones as the remains of a woman, likely in her 30s.

A nunciature is similar to an embassy. The nunciature in Rome — located outside Vatican City — is the residence of the Pope's nuncio, or ambassador, to Italy.

On Oct. 29, workers found human remains in the nunciature's basement during renovations. Italian police were called to the scene and removed the remains for examination.

Even more bone fragments were found at the site this Tuesday. The fragments are thought to belong to the same individual as the remains discovered last week (though it is also possible they are from another person).

Also on Tuesday, an Italian coroner announced that the bones found on Oct. 29 had undergone preliminary examination, where experts reckoned they belonged to an adult woman, probably in her 30s at the time of death.

When the first bones were found, there was speculation that the remains might be those of Emanuela Orlandi, a teenage girl who went missing in Rome in the 1980s. Since the bones are thought to be of a woman in her 30s, it is unlikely they belong to Emanuela unless her kidnappers secretly kept her alive for some 15 years.

The Orlandi family is waiting for a DNA analysis of the remains.

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

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.

Then there came threatening phone calls in which men claimed to be part of a terror group that took Emanuela captive as ransom 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 "Pietroluigi" and "Mario" were actually fellow members of their terrorist group planting false leads.

Photo of Emanuela Orlandi playing the flute.

In the months that followed, one of those callers, known as "the American" for his accent, was given a direct line to the Vatican's Secretary of State at the time, Cdl. Agostino Casaroli. The content of those calls was not made known to the Orlandi family.

Emanuela's brother, Pietro, has said in the past that he reckons the call for Agca's release a red herring. He notes that the phone conversations between "the American" and Cdl. Casaroli were kept private.

Some suspect that Emanuela's kidnappers had ties to the Soviets, as she went missing during the Cold War, a time which sometimes saw political violence in Italy. Investigations into Agca's attempt to assassinate the Pope suggested ties to agencies behind the Iron Curtain.

Another common theory is that Emanuela's father, in his work for the Holy See, may have stumbled upon evidence related to the Vatican Bank scandal possibly implicating the Banda della Magliana (the Magliana gang), a notoriously ruthless criminal organization in Rome. The theory is that the Magliana kidnapped and murdered the girl to scare her father into keeping quiet.

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."

Some have also speculated that the bones recently found in the nunciature may belong to Mirella Gregori, a teen girl who went missing in Rome in 1983 just 40 days before Emanuela's disappearance. Mirella's disappearance is also an unsolved mystery.

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