Why The Pope's Silence Regarding Vatican Girl's Disappearance Has Drawn Criticism

Back in 1983, a teenage girl named Emanuela Orlandi disappeared from the streets of Rome after a music lesson and was never heard from again (via The Daily Beast). She was, at the time, one of few children and one of few females with Vatican citizenship (she was the daughter of a Vatican employee); had there not been a Vatican connection, her name might have simply been a forgotten entry in the list of Roman crime victims. But because she was affiliated with the Holy See, her story was and is quite salacious. And according to the new Netflix documentary "Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi," she is the subject of speculation that the Vatican may have had something to do with it. Or perhaps she was kidnapped by a Turkish gang. Or maybe she was just the random victim of random Roman street crime, and possible connections to institutions larger and more powerful than herself are just coincidence and speculation.

The victim's brother, for his part, is convinced Pope Francis knows something about it and isn't talking. Pope Francis, for his part, actually has said something about the case — he just hasn't said much.

'All Roads Lead To The Vatican'

On June 22, 1983, 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi went missing after she was supposed to return home from a flute lesson in Rome (via Insider). And that is effectively the beginning and the end of what is known for certain about the case. The rest is speculation involving Turkish gangs, the possibility of her being kidnapped into sexual slavery within the Vatican, or other theories — some of which could be based on a kernel of truth.

The complex interplay between organized crime in Rome at the time, ordinary Roman street crime, sexual abuse of children, and the role that the Vatican had to play in any and all of it is complicated. Similarly complicated are the developments in the case over the decades, most of which have provided more questions than answers. Long story short, as the Netflix docuseries explains (via Yahoo News), "There are grains of truth in each theory, but all the roads lead to the Vatican."

'Emanuela Is In Heaven'

Though Emanuela Orlandi disappeared decades ago, her family still retains connection to the Vatican. Specifically, her octogenarian mother still lives within the city-state (via Yahoo News).

Emanuela's brother, Pietro, is convinced not only that his sister's disappearance is in one way or another tied to the Holy See, but also that Pope Francis knows more than he's letting on. Specifically, the pope has said exactly four words about the matter (via The Telegraph): "Emanuela is in Heaven." That would confirm, at the very least, that Emanuela is dead (or that the pope suspects as much). Either way, that's not enough for Pietro, who accuses the current pontiff of actually obfuscating the matter even further than his peers did. "Bergoglio [referring to the Pontiff's birth name] has raised the wall around this story even more than his predecessors and demonstrates a total closure toward Emanuela and her kidnapping," he told an Italian newspaper (via Crux). Pietro continued to note that Francis is in a position to shut down many of the doubts about the Vatican's connection to this crime but said he "has no intention of doing so."

Meanwhile, Vatican officials not named Jorge Mario Begoglio insist that they've handed over everything they have and that the Holy See is not sitting on some secret archive of evidence about Emanuela's disappearance.