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The backstory: In 1983, Emanuela Orlandi, a 15-year-old Vatican employee's daughter, vanished after a music lesson in Rome. And, believe it or not, the case remains one of Italy's biggest mysteries. Several conspiracies have been tied to her disappearance over the years, from connections to mobsters to a political attempt to free someone in jail for trying to assassinate the pope.
More recently: Last year, a Netflix documentary called "Vatican Girl" brought new attention to Orlandi's mysterious disappearance. One of her friends shocked many when she said in the documentary that a high-ranking Vatican official made sexual advances toward Orlandi before she went missing. The Vatican reopened the case in January following the amount of attention the film drew.
Last week, Emanuela Orlandi's brother Pietro Orlandi had an over eight-hour meeting with Vatican chief prosecutor Alessandro Diddi. Afterward, Orlandi shared an audio recording on TV of a man, allegedly part of a crime group, saying girls were brought to the Vatican to be molested, and Pope John Paul II knew about it. Orlandi then alleged himself that he'd heard rumors that John Paul II and two Polish monsignors would go out in the evenings, and "it certainly was not to bless houses," implying they were part of illicit activities.
The development: As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir in the Vatican and globally. So with that, Pope Francis took to St.Peters Square over the weekend to speak to 20,000 people about it. He defended Saint John Paul II against these allegations, calling them "offensive and baseless." Francis emphasized the importance of respecting the former pope's legacy and his focus on divine mercy. Most of the crowd applauded.
John Paul's secretary during his papacy, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, labeled Pietro Orlandi's comments "ignoble, unrealistic, laughable if they were not tragic, even criminal."
"Certain that I am interpreting the sentiments of the faithful from all over the world, I express a grateful thought to the memory of St. John Paul, who in these days has been the object of offensive and unfounded insinuations," said Pope Francis during his speech at St. Peter's Square.
"[It's] correct that Francis defended John Paul II," said Orlandi to Reuters on Sunday by telephone. He also clarified that during his TV appearance, he was simply "repeating what others had said," adding, "I certainly did not see it myself."
"We only found out about the investigation through the media," said Laura Sgrò, the Orlandi family's lawyer, when the investigation was reopened in January. "We wrote to the pope a year ago with the intention of speaking to the promoter of justice. We are of course happy that they are doing an investigation but we really hope this will truly provide concrete answers."
"There are people in the Vatican who know everything," Emanuela Orlandi's brother Pietro told Italian media in January. "Some scenarios have deliberately never been explored, I hope this case will finally mean more collaboration between Vatican and Italian authorities."