June 24, 2008 / 4:17 PM / 11 years ago

Vatican defends late banker from murder accusation

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican defended the late archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the head of the Vatican Bank whose tenure was marred by financial scandal, from media reports on Tuesday that he ordered the killing of a 15-year-old girl in 1983.

Statues on the roof of the Vatican's St Peter's Basilica are silhouetted under storm clouds April 17, 2005. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Marcinkus, an American who died in Arizona in 2006 at the age of 84, was accused by the girlfriend of a slain mobster of hiring hitmen to kidnap and kill Emanuela Orlandi in 1983, the Italian media and some foreign newspapers said.

“Defamatory, baseless accusations were published regarding Mons. Marcinkus, who has been dead for some time and is unable to defend himself,” responded the Vatican in a statement chiding the media for publishing the accusations “without any checks”.

The unsolved disappearance of Orlandi, daughter of a Vatican employee, is regularly the subject of wild conjecture here and reproductions of the original black-and-white “Missing” poster are now displayed all over Rome to mark the 25th anniversary.

It is not the first time Orlandi’s disappearance has been linked to the Vatican. Investigators even probed at one point if there was a link to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul in 1981 by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

Anonymous callers said after she went missing in 1983 that she would be freed if Italy released Agca. But police were never able to confirm any connection between the two cases.

There has also long been speculation of a link between the Orlandi case and alleged mafia involvement in Vatican finances.

Such theories connect Orlandi’s disappearance and the still unsolved death in 1982 of Italian Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s Banker”, who was found hanged from Blackfriars Bridge in London after the institution he ran, Banco Ambrosiano, collapsed.

Calvi was first ruled to have committed suicide, but an Italian court found last year that he had probably been murdered by the mafia for losing money he was supposed to launder.

Marcinkus ran the Vatican Bank — formally “the Institute for Religious Works” — which owned part of Ambrosiano and was found partly responsible for its $1.3 billion of bad debts.

Italian newspapers quoted a woman called Sabrina Minardi as saying that her late boyfriend Enrico de Pedis, a boss of Rome’s notorious “Magliana Gang” which was active until the early 1990s, killed Orlandi and threw her body into a cement mixer.

“The decision came from a high level, sort of Marcinkus. It was a message to someone above them,” newspapers quoted Minardi as telling investigating magistrates in recent days.

But papers also said Orlandi case prosecutors were treating her comments with great caution as some were contradictory.

One judge who oversaw cases related to the Magliana gang and Calvi said that, while it was possible the mob kidnapped Orlandi in the hope of securing a ransom to recover money they had lost in Banco Ambrosiano, accusing Marcinkus was “pure fantasy”.

The Vatican expressed its “deep sorrow and condemnation for the spread of information more due to the draw of sensationalism than the demands of seriousness and professional ethics”.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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