ROME – Forensic police swarmed the crypt of a Roman basilica on Monday to exhume the body of a reputed mobster as part of an investigation into one of the Vatican's most enduring mysteries: the 1983 disappearance of the teenage daughter of one of its employees.
Medical experts took samples from the remains of Enrico De Pedis and also took boxes of old bones from the nearby ossuary, according to a De Pedis family lawyer, as part of the investigation into whether Emanuela Orlandi may have been buried alongside him.
Orlandi was 15 when she disappeared in 1983 after leaving her family's Vatican City apartment to go to a music lesson in Rome. Her father was a lay employee of the Holy See.
De Pedis, a member of Rome's Magliana mob, was killed in 1990. His one-time girlfriend has reportedly told prosecutors that De Pedis kidnapped Orlandi, and an anonymous caller in 2005 told a call-in television show that the answer to Orlandi's disappearance lay in his tomb.
Amid a new push to resolve the case, the Vatican said last month it had no objections to opening the tomb. On Monday, Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the inspection of the De Pedis tomb was "certainly a positive fact" aimed at carrying out "all possible steps so the investigation could be completed.
"The prosecutors' office can continue to count on the full collaboration of the church authorities," Lombardi said in comments to reporters.
The scene Monday outside the Sant'Apollinare basilica was hectic, with television cameras jostling for views inside the chapel and the adjacent courtyard of the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Holy Cross University, where forensic vans came and went.
An overwhelming stench filled the air as medical personnel in white pantsuits and masks mingled with priests in black clerical garb and ducked into a blue tent where samples of De Pedis' remains were believed to have been brought.
Lorenzo Radogna, a De Pedis family attorney, told reporters outside that investigators had found some 200 containers with bones near De Pedis' tomb in the ossuary, and that they would be tested in the coming days and weeks. Initially, the ANSA news agency reported the boxes had been discovered in De Pedis' casket itself but later said they were found in the nearby ossuary.
Orlandi's brother, Pietro, who was at the scene, said samples from De Pedis' body had been taken for further tests and the tomb re-closed. He said the corpse was in relatively good condition, but there was only one body — that of a male — inside the casket.
There had initially been speculation that Emanuela Orlandi's kidnapping was linked in some way to an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, which had occurred two years earlier, and the jailing of the gunman, Ali Agca.
Doubts have also been cast on whether the Vatican itself had cooperated fully with the investigation.
In 2008, Italian news reports quoted De Pedis' ex-girlfriend as telling prosecutors that Orlandi had been kidnapped by the Magliana gang on the orders of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the late U.S. prelate who had headed the Vatican bank and was linked to a huge Italian banking scandal in the 1980s. Marcinkus had always asserted his innocence in the scandal and the Vatican at the time of the allegation said the woman's claims had "extremely doubtful value."
In a lengthy statement last month, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi insisted the Holy See had done everything possible to try to resolve the case.
Pietro Orlandi said the move to exhume the tomb was a step forward in the investigation, and he hoped it showed a new willingness on the part of the Vatican to cooperate fully and show full transparency about what it knows.
"I think it's something very positive, both from the point of view of the Vatican and the prosecutors," he told reporters.
Speculation has long swirled around the location of De Pedis' tomb, since it is buried in a prominent church alongside important Catholics — an unusual final resting place for a reputed local mobster. Sant'Apollinare is right next to the elegant Piazza Navona in Rome's historic center. As the exhumation went on in the crypt a priest was solemnly celebrating Mass upstairs in Latin.
Among those in the adjacent courtyard speaking with medical personnel was the rector of the basilica, Msgr. Pedro Huidobro, who oddly enough was a coroner before being ordained a priest.
De Pedis' casket is expected to be moved to another location for reburial in the near future, Radogna said.
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