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Gerard O’ConnellApril 16, 2023
Pope Francis leads the recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer from the window of his studio in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Easter Monday, April 10, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has denounced the “offensive and baseless allegations” made against St. John Paul II after comments made on Italian television by Pietro Orlandi, the brother of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-old “Vatican girl” who disappeared on June 22, 1983, and whose case has been opened by the Vatican prosecutor at the pope’s instruction.

Pope Francis’ remarks came as he greeted thousands of pilgrims, including many from Poland carrying flags of their homeland, who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast established by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis: “I cast a grateful thought to the memory of St. John Paul II, [who has been] in these past days the object of offensive and baseless allegations."

Acknowledging their presence, Francis said he felt “certain” that he was “interpreting the sentiments of the faithful of the entire world. “I cast a grateful thought to the memory of St. John Paul II, [who has been] in these past days the object of offensive and baseless allegations,” he said.

The pope’s brief remarks followed a hard-hitting editorial published on April 14 in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily, that slammed comments made on Italian television by Pietro Orlandi, the brother of Emanuela, as “absurd and defamatory accusations.”

Mr. Orlandi had said on La 7 television on April 11 that he had been told by a source that “John Paul II sometimes went out at night with two Polish monsignors, and he clearly did not go out to bless houses,” implying he had gone out looking for young women. During the interview with Mr. Orlandi, the television program also played an audio recording of a telephone call from a member of a Roman criminal gang who also sought to implicate the Polish pope in sex parties with minors.

Mr. Orlandi said on television, “I think one of the possibilities was that Emanuela suffered abuse, but this abuse may have been organized to create an object of blackmail.”

His comments follow recent media attacks against John Paul II in Poland, where two television documentaries and a book by a Dutch journalist accused Karol Wojtyla (the future pope) of covering up some cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy during his time as archbishop of Krakow.

Mr. Tornielli denounced “this media massacre” for causing “sadness and shock and wounding the hearts of millions of believers and non-believers."

L’Osservatore Romano’s editorial, written by its editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, hit out at “the supposed revelations” about the Polish pope and the case of the Vatican girl who disappeared 40 years ago as she returned home from a music class. While affirming that it was right to investigate the disappearance of the girl, the Vatican editorial said this quest does not justify unfounded allegations and slander.

“Evidence? None. Clues? Even less. Third- or second-hand testimony? Not even a shadow. Just anonymous, shameful accusations,” the editorial stated. Mr. Tornielli denounced “this media massacre” for causing “sadness and shock and wounding the hearts of millions of believers and non-believers” and said “the defamation must be denounced because it is unworthy of a civilized country for anyone to be treated in this way, dead or alive, whether they be a cleric or a layperson, a pope, a metal worker or a young unemployed person.”

Before going on the television show last Tuesday, Mr. Orlandi had a long meeting with the Vatican prosecutor, Mr Alessandro Diddi. It was the first time in 40 years that a Vatican prosecutor had heard what Mr. Orlandi wanted to say.

When news of Mr. Orlandi’s comments on television reached Poland, it provoked a sharp reaction from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the longtime secretary of John Paul II. While describing the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi as “a gigantic crime,” he said he considered also “criminal” the attempts “to make profit” from this case through “uncontrollable deviations” that tended to “discredit persons and a milieu that are worth of universal esteem, unless there are proofs to the contrary.”

“I can testify without fear of contradiction, that from the first moment the Holy Father took charge [of the case], and acted and caused things to be done that could have resulted in a happy outcome,” he said. “He never supported acts of coverup; he always showed affection, closeness, and helped in various ways Emanuela’s family.”

On Friday, the day the Vatican editorial was published, Mr. Orlandi’s lawyer Laura Sgrò said her client had not intended to “formulate accusations against anyone.” She said he repeated this to the prosecutor, and “wrote it in the deposition he presented during his testimony.” She said he had only asked “that the quest for the truth should not be conditioned in any way” and added that “he is sorry that some people have misinterpreted his statements” by “manipulating things extrapolated from them.”

The Vatican prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, summoned Ms. Sgrò to a meeting on Saturday morning, April 15, regarding the source of the comments made about John Paul II, but neither she nor Mr. Orlandi revealed the name of the source, claiming legal privilege.

Many in Rome believe the comments by Mr. Orlandi about John Paul II risk eclipsing if not derailing the first Vatican judicial investigation in 40 years into the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, whom Netflix has renamed “Vatican girl.”

Mr. Diddi described the refusal of Mr. Orlandi and his lawyer to reveal the name of the anonymous source of the comments about John Paul II as “a great brake” on the mandate given him by Pope Francis to find out the truth, and described their attitude as “irritating,” especially after they had pushed to be heard by the prosecutor and now refused to disclose the name when requested.

“One does not play with the figure and the memory of a saint, and certain accusations are doubly grave because they are not demonstrated [provided with evidence], and are re-launched in the media, and so need to be clarified beyond doubt,” he said.

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