PUBLISHED: 18:58 EST, 29 May 2012 | UPDATED: 18:58 EST, 29 May 2012
When forensic investigators opened a diamond-encrusted tomb in the heart of Rome a few days ago, bystanders gagged and recoiled as the whiff of death billowed into the summer air.
Watched by priests in black clerical robes, and with the sound of a Latin Mass audible from a church nearby, the stench came from the decomposing remains of a notorious Italian gangland killer who, curiously, was buried by the Vatican in a place usually reserved for saints.
Inside the crypt at the Basilica of St Apollinare, police forensics experts found, encased in his expensively tailored dark blue suit and black tie, the decaying cadaver of Enrico De Pedis, who was shot dead by Mafia rivals in 1990.
Having supposedly repented before his death and left a large sum to charity (not to mention £600,000 to a Rome priest), the gangster, who ran drugs and prostitution rackets, was given dispensation to be buried in the seventh- century church, with diamonds spelling out his name on the tomb.
While the mobster’s presence on sacred ground has caused a scandal, it’s his role as an alleged pimp to senior Vatican figures that threatens to plunge the Roman Catholic Church into its gravest crisis yet — after astonishing claims about the sexual abuse and death of Emanuela Orlandi, a pretty 15-year-old girl and talented musician. It is those claims that led police to open the crypt.
Near the casket containing the body of the gangster, there was a box with other human bones, which police took for DNA testing, escorted by motorcycle outriders as they sped from Piazza Navona to a laboratory.
The family of Emanuela are waiting to hear if the tests confirm the bones are those of the schoolgirl, who disappeared in the summer of 1983 after leaving her family’s Vatican City apartment to go to a flute lesson in Rome.
Mafia gangster De Pedis, left, was shot dead in 1990 and right, controversial Monsignor Marcinkus, a senior prelate and former head of the Vatican bank. Sabrina Minardi, who was engaged to De Pedis, has told prosecutors Emanuela had been kidnapped on the ‘orders of Monsignor Marcinkus’
Often seen playing within the Vatican walls, where her father worked as a lay official in administration, Emanuela was last seen getting into a green BMW in the centre of the Eternal City. She has not been seen since. If the bones in the tomb are hers, it will be a hammer blow to the credibility of the Church, amid allegations that the girl was abused at depraved orgies attended by some of the Vatican’s most senior prelates and advisers to successive popes.
To the dismay of Vatican officials, already reeling from disclosures about cover-ups involving paedophile priests, these claims come from an insider — a veteran priest with unprecedented access to the inner sanctums of the Vatican.
Father Gabriel Amorth, a priest for 50 years, believes the girl was the victim of a ‘crime with a sexual motive’ and that police should focus their investigations on the Vatican.
The priest has published a book called the Last Exorcist, making lurid claims that Emanuela’s death was part of a satanic plot. Father Amorth — appointed the Vatican’s official exorcist by Pope John Paul II — said: ‘A girl of 15 is not going to get into a car unless it’s with someone she knows. It is important to speak to the people who knew Emanuela.
‘All too often, this is how satanic sects work: they get a girl into a car and then they disappear. The game is all too easy. They drug them and then they do what they want to the girls.
‘Satan attacks priests and people who have consecrated themselves to God. By striking at a priest it signifies dragging down to Hell many other people. Think about all those priests who have muddied their vestments by sexually abusing minors. These acts are demonic. Can a girl disappear from somewhere so close to the Vatican? Sadly, yes.’
s well as carrying out more than 70,000 exorcisms, Father Amorth, 85, is a colourful figure criticised for suggesting Harry Potter is immoral because talk of magic is a ‘turn to the devil’, and that yoga is evil for turning people towards Hinduism.
Yet suggestions of depraved Vatican sex orgies are not simply the claims of one man — far from it.
The allegations are also supported by the former lover of the gangster whose tomb was opened last week. She is under police protection after swearing a statement alleging De Pedis procured girls for Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, a senior prelate and former head of the Vatican bank, long accused of Mafia links.
Sabrina Minardi, who was engaged to De Pedis at the time of his death aged 38, has also told prosecutors young Emanuela had been kidnapped on the ‘orders of Monsignor Marcinkus’. ‘They (the gangster and the priest) knew each other and confided in each other,’ says a leaked copy of her witness statement.
‘I don’t know who actually kidnapped Emanuela, but I know the order came from high up, from Monsignor Marcinkus.’
Minardi claims she met the frightened teenager with De Pedis in a bar on the city’s Gianicolo Hill, which overlooks the Vatican, and that the gangster warned her to ‘forget who you have just seen’.
She ‘took girls to the Marcinkus place at the Vatican a few times, maybe five or six times’, and Emanuela was kept in a secret apartment inside the Vatican after she was kidnapped.
After being abused at sadistic sex parties involving senior Vatican figures, the girl was allegedly murdered and her body thrown into a cement mixer De Pedis kept for disposing of Mafia enemies.
Now, the police want to know if her remains were then taken to the tomb De Pedis had been granted access to by the Vatican. Similar allegations were made by an anonymous caller to an Italian TV crime show in 2008, saying the answer to the girl’s disappearance lay inside the gangster’s tomb.
It later emerged that the caller was an underworld crime figure — and close friend of De Pedis — who also did business with Marcinkus.
The monsignor, who died six years ago, was a controversial figure who was questioned about laundering Mafia money through the Vatican Bank in the Seventies.
He used his status in the early Eighties to avoid being questioned by police probing the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in which the Vatican had invested.
The collapse was linked to the murder of Roberto Calvi, dubbed God’s Banker, when his body was found hanging under Black-friars Bridge in London in 1982. His pockets were filled with cash and stones.
His death was first recorded as a suicide, but police believe he was murdered by the Mafia after bungled money laundering.
Six years after Marcinkus’s death, his past is coming under scrutiny once again following Father Amorth’s new claims.
The dead girl’s brother and other campaigners marched to St Peter’s Square as the Pope held prayers on Sunday, bearing pictures of Emanuela.
They chanted ‘Shame! Shame’ after Pope Benedict studiously avoided offering prayers for the dead girl, instead asking worshippers to support an archery group.
The scandal could hardly have come at a worse time for the Vatican, which was gripped by a new crisis yesterday as Pope Benedict’s butler was suspended amid allegations he leaked sensitive details about massive financial corruption to Italian newspapers.
Meanwhile, there are countless court cases against paedophile priests pending around the globe.
This is hardly the first time allegations detailing secret Vatican orgies have emerged. In 1999, there was uproar in the Vatican court when a book was published about sex and corruption involving nuns and priests serving the Pope.
After Vatican lawyers unsuccessfully tried to have the book banned, officials were enraged when it emerged that one of the authors was Father Luigi Marinelli, who was hauled before an ecclesiastical court and defrocked.
The book, Gone With The Wind In The Vatican, went on to become an Italian best-seller, detailing cases of priests and nuns who had been caught having sex, with many of them being promoted or moved and the scandals covered up.
One monsignor had bedded so many nuns in Rome and on overseas missions that he was given a ‘nice bishop’s job in a diocese by the sea in southern Italy’ to stop the scandal spreading.
Shortly after it was published, Father Marinelli said: ‘The book . . . just points out that the Vatican is made up of men, who, like me, are flawed. It’s all true — in fact there was other wilder material that I had to leave out.’
These fresh claims in recent days about Vatican orgies are fuelled by testimony from Monsignor Simeone Duca, another Vatican insider who was in charge of the Pope’s Secret Archive, where records dating back centuries hold the secrets of the Catholic Church.
‘Duca gave an interview shortly before he died,’ says Paulo Rodari, a journalist who wrote the Last Exorcist with Father Amorth.
‘He said parties were regularly organised with the help of Vatican guards — known as gendarmes — at which young girls were recruited and then paid for sex.
‘The circle of guests would include people from the Vatican, and they were held at the embassy to the Vatican of a foreign country in Rome. I believe Emanuela was murdered to ensure her silence.’
The missing girl’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, 52, told the Mail he clings to the hope his little sister is alive — though he has to fear the worst.
‘As far as I am concerned, the Vatican knows something, but it is refusing to speak — they have always claimed secrecy of state and not shared any information with the investigators. It is a silence — an omerta like the Mafia,’ he says.
‘What we really need to know is why the Vatican allowed an underworld boss to be buried in such a sacred place. We need to know the relationship between the Holy See and the criminal underworld. It has been almost 29 years since Emanuela disappeared, and in all that time we have had silence from the Vatican.
‘I shall never forget the day Emanuela disappeared — I usually took her and collected her from her music lesson. That day I said I couldn’t. We quarrelled and she stormed off, slamming the door.
‘That was the last time I saw her. I have relived that moment for 29 years, wondering what would have happened if I had taken her.’
Perhaps now those tests in a Roman lab will reveal whether one of the Vatican’s most awful secrets really was buried in a gangster’s diamond-encrusted tomb.