Vatican Girl explained: Who kidnapped Emanuela Orlandi?

Netflix’s docuseries Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi follows the 38-year-old missing case of the titular teenage girl that took place in the 1983 Vatican and gave rise to countless conspiracies, suspicious secrets, and unresolved mysteries.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Plot Summary

On a specially hot evening in June 1983, a teen girl named Emanuela Orlandi disappears in Vatican City. What follows is an incredibly heart-wrenching search for Emanuela and answers surrounding the mystery of her disappearance.

Over the years following her disappearance, a series of unsatisfactory developments are made, with countless leads all carrying some semblance of truth but never quite the whole of it.

Spanning almost 38 years, Emanuela’s family’s search for their beloved still continues while the biggest suspects behind the disappearance continue to evade pressing questions and gatekeeping crucial information relevant to the case.

Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi explained in detail:

Who was Emanuela Orlandi?

Emanuela Orlandi, the second youngest of five siblings, was born and raised in a devout Catholic family in Vatican City.

In a country with a meagre population, Emanuela lived with her family that had been serving the Popes for generations. The family included parents Ercole and Maria Orlandi; her sisters Natalina, Federica, and Maria Cristina; her brother Pietro Orlandi.

Emanuela was 15 years old when she disappeared. Vatican Girl begins with Pietro providing the details related to her sister at the time of her disappearance and the life she led before it.

Pietro talks about his sister and shows the room she used to live in. Emanuela played the flute and the piano. She also sang in the choir.

The Vatican girl disappears

On the day of her disappearance, Emanuela had gone for the music rehearsals at her school.

Before leaving her music school that was outside the Vatican, Emanuela calls home and tells her sister that a man had approached her outside the school.

This man, she informs Federica, was offering her a small job for the cosmetic brand Avon. Cristina and her friends are supposed to meet with Emanuela after school.

However, when she and her friends arrive at the meeting spot, Emanuela doesn’t show up. They wait for a while after Christina heads home, only to learn from the parents that her sister hasn’t returned home yet.

Hours go by and by 9:30 pm, the Orlandi family’s anxiety is at an all-time high, compelling everyone to head out and look for her. They search and search, only to never find her ever again.

The search and the first leads

The Orlandi family goes to the police who aren’t much help. They then get Emanuela’s photograph published in the newspaper, along with their contact info.

A lot of calls come, but two among them are the most notable. The first one is from a man calling himself Pierluigi, who claims he saw a girl named Barbara selling Avon products.

This matched with the information Emanuela gave Federica before her disappearance that day. Days go by and another man calls the Orlandi household, this one named Mario, claiming to have seen a girl called Barbarella selling cosmetic products.

Mario also revealed that the girl talked about her regret of not being able to sing at an upcoming concert at her school. This information was accurate as well as one that no one other than the family knew about.

Following these developments, the Orlandi family are visited by Secret Service agents who install recording devices in their home, to record all the calls that they receive.

Meanwhile, the family pastes missing posters of Emanuela all across the Vatican and beyond. This catches a lot of attention from a lot of different places, including the Vatican Church itself.

Mehmet Ali Agca and the Vatican

Soon after Pope John Paul II addressed the crowd and talked about Emanuela’s disappearance, the Orlandi family received another call.

This call comes from a person talking in Italian with a foreign accent. The people interviewed for Vatican Girl and involved with the case refer to this person as “The American.”

The man says he has abducted Emanuela, telling the family that they’re ready to kill her once the deadline is over.

The demand is that Mehmet Ali Agca is released from prison and handed back to the Grey Wolves — a Turkish far-right ultranationalistic group responsible for many terrorist attacks.

The news spreads all over the world that the kidnappers want to exchange Emanuela for Agca and there’s credibility to the development since it carries an important context.

Two years before the Vatican girl’s disappearance, Ali Agca attempted to kill the concurrent Pope. However, the Pope survived despite two shots in his body and Agca was eventually arrested.

The supposed members of Grey Wolves and the kidnappers demanded his release in exchange for Emanuela’s. This put all the things in context until they didn’t.

Ali Agca started talking to the Italian authorities himself, also loudly condemning the kidnapping in front of the media. He also claimed that it wasn’t Grey Wolves but the KGB that was behind his attack on the Pope.

Vatican Girl then presents the prevailing theory that followed; the KGB planned to get Ali Agca released and subsequently silenced him by killing him.

Banda Della Magliana and the Vatican

If Agca’s words are to be believed, why did the KGB launch an attack on the Pope? Vatican Girl offers an elaborate attempt at explanation, one that connects the Vatican Church to huge financial frauds and organised crime.

According to the journalists and people involved in the case and in the Netflix docuseries, the theory that connected all the aforementioned parties has to do with the Cold War.

Pope John Paul II and archbishop Marcinkus were very anti-communist. The pope originally hailed from Poland, a country part of the Soviet regime at the time and also one where Solidarność — a huge anti-soviet movement — was raging on.

The pope and archbishop, according to the theories presented in Vatican Girl, wanted to make use of the Solidarity movement in Poland to bring back Catholicism in the country and potentially defeat the atheistic Soviet regime, and by extension the entire regime itself.

The docuseries also connects the pope and archbishop’s anti-communist efforts to those of the concurrent Reagan-era United States.

The theory entails a massive secretive operation that archbishop Marcinkus spearheaded, in association with Banco Ambrosiano and the Italian mafia.

To support Solidarność in Poland, the pope and archbishop needed to send significant financial help. The journalists interviewed for Vatican Girl posit that the church turned towards the mafia for money.

However, the money had to be clean so Archbishop turned to the CEO of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, to launder the money. A massive amount of money was siphoned off to the Vatican Bank.

However, Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in 1982, and to get its money back, the Banda Della Magliana gang started giving the Vatican warnings.

One of the symbolic warnings to the church, the experts claim, was Calvi’s death. While he was found hanging below the Blackfriars bridge in London, many theorized that it was a murder and not a suicide.

The killers were none other than Magliana gang members, who killed him to send a warning. Another in the series of their warnings was the kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi.

The former mistress of one of the Magliana bosses, Enrico De Pedis, also came forward after the death of John Paul II and claimed that she saw Emanuela in captivity after she was kidnapped.

According to Sabrina Minardi, she was a witness to the transfer of money from the Magliana gang to the church on many occasions. She also claims to have met Emanuela several times while she was kidnapped.

The sex scandal developments

In its last episode, Vatican Girl delves into a new development being made in the disappearance case of Emanuela Orlandi.

With her identity kept a secret, a childhood dear friend of Emanuela confesses something she never had the courage to confess.

According to this anonymous friend of Emanuela, the missing Vatican girl had phoned her and asked her to meet because she wanted to tell her something important.

The friend claims that it was about a high authority figure close to Pope John Paul II “bothering” her during a walk one day. The docuseries and the friend in the interview allude to this “bothering” as an act of sexual assault.

The docuseries frames this alleged sexual assault as the central tenet of its last theory.

According to interviewees, including Andrea Purgatori and Lauro Sgro (lawyer representing the Orlandi family), the mafia knew about Emanuela Orlandi’s sexual assault/harassment at the hands of a top Vatican figure.

They intended to use this information as leverage to blackmail the Church and get their money back. However, since the information surrounding Emanuela could topple everything at the Vatican and attenuate its power, the Church stayed quiet.

Even after the death of John Paul II, the Vatican has remained quiet and unhelpful regarding the information related to Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance.

The Orlandi family and others claim that the Vatican has always known what happened with the Vatican girl Emanuela Orlandi and yet remains steadfast in keeping the truth confined within its walls.

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