At the Vatican, two mysteries—one probably easy to resolve

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 15, 2019

Just a few days after announcing that excavations inside the Vatican yielded no evidence to shed light on the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the Vatican has now said that some human remains were found, and the investigation will continue. What’s going on here?

The short answer: in all probability, not much. Not much, that is, of interest to anyone but historians and archeologists.

Last week I wrote about the Vatican’s remarkable decision to open tombs in the Teutonic Cemetery, responding to a rumor that the teenage girl who disappeared in 1983 might be buried there. Since no hard evidence about Emanuela Orlandi’s fate has ever come to public light, I was amazed that the Vatican would—after all these years—take the rumor seriously enough to dig up the remains of two German princesses. Did the Vatican have some information that hasn’t become public? It seems likely. We may never know.

However, the excavations conducted on July 11 produced no evidence about the Orlandi case. Instead they introduced another mystery: the remains of those two princesses, buried in the 19th century, were also missing!

Now the Vatican has revealed that further investigation at a nearby site unearthed two ossuaries. The most likely explanation is that they contain the remains of those two missing princesses. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was some construction work done at the Teutonic Cemetery. In all likelihood the ossuaries were removed for safekeeping, and someone forgot to replace them and/or to make a record of their location. That would be an embarrassing blunder, but not the stuff of a sensational crime story.

We’ll know more this coming Saturday, when experts will take a closer look at the ossuaries. It may take a while to determine whose remains they contain. But as far as the Orlandi mystery is concerned, a quick answer is quite likely. If the ossuaries date from the 19th century, or even if they were buried in their current location during the construction project of the 1960-1970s, they cannot contain the remains of a girl who disappeared in 1983.

Stay tuned. It’s still not impossible that a sensational story will erupt. But it’s far more likely that when all the excavations are done and the expert analyses rendered, the mystery of the missing princesses will be solved and the mystery of Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance will remain.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: SPM - Jul. 15, 2019 9:17 PM ET USA

    I doubt there is anything particularly unusual about the Vatican's response. I know through my work that the Air Force is taking seriously the 200,000 people storming Area 51 to look for UFOs: not that they believe it has any chance of taking place, but a "due diligence" review of the contractors security operations. If the police knock on your door and say there is an anonymous report you have slaves chained up in your basement, I would guess you would let them in to show it is ridiculous.