Emanuela Orlandi was 15 years old when she disappeared from a music school evening in Rome. She should have met her sister at about 7 pm on 22nd June 1983. The family tried to raise the alert that evening, however, it was the next day a report was taken as the police felt it was too soon to search for her that evening. What happened between then and now could otherwise only be found in a reasonably well crafted novel.
I could go through the details and the spinning twists and turns of the search for her but I would in many ways be wasting your time. Netflix have put together one of their in-depth docuseries. However, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts before you watch it. In doing this I will briefly describe this awful missing person case.
This school girl was living inside the Vatican City. Outside of the gates is Rome and obviously Italy. The Vatican has been an independent state since 1929. It is the Catholic Church’s place for want of another way of putting it. Emanuela Orlandi’s father worked in the papal household. I have seen it said he was a clerk. Wikipedia mentions that some sources say he was an employee of the Vatican Bank. This is an important detail so I went looking all over the internet for a definitive answer. According to The Cosmopolitan online, who did a background piece, he was working for the papal household.
The papal household are the dignitaries who assist with the Pope ( head of the church) with ceremonies and judicial matters. So around Mr Orlandi would have been very high ranking operators within the inner circle of the Catholic Church. The Cosmopolitan also says that his children where some of the few who had been granted citizenship of The Vatican.
They lived in an apartment within the impressive city walls. An example of how separate this tiny nation is can be found in what happens about policing and crime. There seems to be very close co-operation between Italian and Vatican authorities. That said when it comes down to it the Vatican has it’s own cops and highly colorful security.
Not everything a citizen of the Vatican needs is within the walls. Emanuela Orlandi was last seen safe at a music school. She played the flute and had it with her though apparently that night she was singing. On the way in she met a man who had asked her if she would like to work for Avon ( the cosmetics company). This was communicated to her sister in a phone call. After that she vanished.
This cruel saga soon turned into a kidnapping. The family received phone calls linking her abduction to the release of a high level ( infamous really) convict. Mehmet Ali Ağca attempted to murder Pope John Paul 2nd in 1981. He was detained and was in prison. The called to the Orlandi family said that they wanted him released and if that was done the child would be returned to them.
This is where we are in spy novel territory.
Several calls were made and the cops tried to catch the caller. Later ( Netflix) it is alleged there were two main callers with, disguised or assumed, American accents. All the calls were in Italian. The sounds of Emanuela speaking, a photocopy of a note with her handwriting, pictures of her ID and another tape claiming it was Emanuela in distress were sent to the family.
The girl has not been seen since and Agca was not released.
The Netflix Docuseries: The Vatican Girl
I just finished watching it. First the downside. They did what they do well. They interview people and ruthlessly edit it. The tale coming out in parts, sometimes out of any chronological order. They talk of the banking scandal the year before, present witnesses who say they helped keep Emanuela hostage and drop big bits of intriguing information.
As is their thing they build up through all manner of background details and then in the end come up with a credible theory that all the journalist’s and investigators agree on. The thing is we have been here before with Netflix. Often the proof is in the bits left out.
One of the people at the center of this is a sleazy character who claims to have been working with gangsters and who was the main player in the abduction. Analysis of recordings did not match him to early ‘American’ calls yet did to later ones. Meanwhile a psychiatrist who examined him, along with several others, believed he knew a few details and otherwise was full of you know what.
The film makers seemed to say for example ‘Emanuela was taken to put pressure on The Vatican to pay back money they owed the Mafia’. However, they did not explain why the 15 year old daughter of an employee would be seen as pivotal in unleashing millions in cash to them. The same lack of explanation is behind this prisoner swap for the man who tried to kill the Pope. I mean a 15 year old weighed against a guy who attempted to assassinate the head of the Catholic Church? No disrespect to Emanuela, in my view she was the most valuable character in all of this, but that is not the way the world works.
At one point the makers seized on a prophecy relayed by three children in 1917. The makers pointed out that the assassination attempt had occurred on the anniversary of one of these prophecies being handed down by Mary (as in Jesus’ mother). They linked it very much to the assault on Pope John Paul 2nd. Apparently Mary had said a Pope would be killed if the then Soviet Union had not become Christian as a nation. They then just left the fact hanging there without making any reference to the obvious. Mary appears in a vison to these children and says that. However, the Pope was not killed. I mean when it comes to celestial prophecy she would hardly have got that wrong would she?
I had a look, the visons were from an incident called The Three Secrets of Fátima. The bits I saw do not seem to back up its relevance as told in the documentary. Maybe you know more so please put me straight if you do.
That is what we have come to expect from Netflix etc. HERE IS A FACT, A REVELATION…then on to something else.
My praise for it is they do the texture of the times and events so very well. The photographic work, the mini reconstructions and the wide ranging interviews are brilliant. They have raised questions that need answers and it is as polished as a bannister rail in Downton Abbey.
I just humbly suggest you critically analyse their presentation. The most sensible and considered opinions come from the poor family. They are scarred from the ups and downs of the decades. Their pain and integrity shines through. I could not express my admiration for them high enough.
In the end, for all the strange turns of this case. For all the alleged Mafia and Vatican collusion, a young girl was taken by low life not fit to wipe her shoes.
Here it the Cosmo article
Here is the Netflix Trailer