Scandal brews in the Vatican

Kidnapping, mafia plots, freemasons, inappropriate conduct by cardinals, the Bulgarian secret police and the Stasi? Another movie style scandal haunts the Vatican

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Tim Hedges
On 25 September 2017 10:55

Vatican watching, like Kremlinology in the days of the Cold War, is more of an art than a science. The genius is to interpret what is going on.

True, only one person appears on the balcony of St Peter’s, but behind and beneath lies a snake-pit of scheming politics. Seemingly unrelated incidents can point the way to something big.

So it was with the reappearance in the news of the curious case of Emanuela Orlandi, which most Italians had forgotten about. Her father was a fairly unimportant Vatican official; the family lived in the Vatican. On 22nd June 1983 she disappeared without trace. She was 15.

An eyewitness said she got into a black BMW driven by a thin faced man who was purportedly offering her work. An attractive young girl, a mysterious stranger, everyone knew what was likely and expected the worst.

But then, as often happens in circles where people don’t have enough to do, there emerged an alarming raft of theories, accusations, innuendo and faux explanation. People whispered, of course they did, that one of the cardinals had, shall we say, behaved inappropriately,

The favoured and much stranger rumour, however, was that she had been kidnapped by the Bulgarian Secret Services or perhaps the East German Stasi trying to divert public attention from the arrest of Sergei Antonov. This gentleman was a colleague of Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to assassinate Pope (now Saint) John Paul II. Anti-Bulgarian feelings were running high at the time.

Yet another theory emerged in 2005 when an anonymous caller rang a TV station to say Emanuela had been kidnapped at the request of Cardinal Ugo Poletti and that they should see who was buried in the basilica of S. Apollinare in Rome. Poletti held the important rank of Vicar-General of Rome and was known to be a freemason. He had died in 1997.

In the vault of the basilica the police found the remains of Roman gangster Renatino de Pedis, a surprise because such places are normally for bishops or cardinals, not gangsters. It was suspected the remains of Emanuela might lie with those of de Pedis. We then discover that de Pedis’s reburial in the basilica had been ordered by none other than Cardinal Polettti.

Why were these mafiosi involved in the kidnap and murder of a young girl? The crime might have been connected with the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano: the mafia have long been trying to recuperate the money they lost. There was secret freemasonry behind the scandal, in which Roberto Calvi was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London, and Cardinal Poletti was a freemason.

De Pedis’s involvement was confirmed as true by his ex-lover and another friend, and they later amended their story to implicate Archbishop Marcinkus, who had, bizarrely, been both John Paul II’s bodyguard and head of the Vatican Bank.

People asked why would Poletti and Marcinkus have done this? Could the gangster’s family have demanded a posher resting place for Renatino in return for writing off monies lost in Ambrosiano? But why kidnap the girl?

So much for the background. Now there is a new development. The journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi was caught up in the recent scandal of Vatileaks 2, in which you may remember, the extraordinary Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui had an affair with a priest, Monsignor Balda who leaked Vatican documents.

Of these leaked documents, Fittipaldi claims to have one, purportedly authorising the expenditure of around €250,000 for the maintenance of Emanuela, partly at an address in London. Part of the money was to be for living and medical expenses, part for ‘investigations’. The payments started in 1983 (when she disappeared) and finished abruptly in 1997.

Had the Vatican hidden her in London? Why?

Vatican spokesmen point to all kinds of errors in Fittipaldi’s document suggesting it is untrue. Perhaps they are right. But if so, why does it exist? Was it to incriminate someone still living?

This story contains elements of the old Vatican of John Paul II (corruption, mafia-related activity, murder) and elements of Pope Benedict’s Vatican (backstabbing, intrigue, secret news briefings). We may never know the truth.

But it is clear that the eyes of the world can penetrate the Vatican walls more clearly than ever before. The world will not like what it sees. Pope Francis needs to get on top of this, learn how to shut down stories before they get out of control. I have said it before: he should employ Peter Mandelson.  

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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