Why the Vatican allowed a top mobster to be buried in Sant’Apollinare has been a source of furious speculation since 1997, when the resting place of De Pedis — gunned down seven years earlier — was first revealed. The answer taking shape looks like something bestselling author Dan (The Da Vinci Code) Brown would have had trouble dreaming up. The story goes back to the 1980s and includes money-laundering allegations against the Vatican’s bank, the attempted assassination of the late Pope John Paul II, the murder-suicide of two Vatican Swiss guards, and the widely publicized kidnapping of a teenage girl. The shocking tale’s many threads began meshing in the mid 2000s. They were revived this week by the latest in a series of leaks that have rocked the Vatican — leaks observers believe are the result of an internal power struggle, one that has fuelled speculation about jostling to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. This time, a January letter from Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesperson, has made its way to the media. The three-page letter, revealed by a program on the state-owned Rai Tre channel, focuses on the kidnapping of Emanuela Orlandi, a 15-year-old Vatican City resident who disappeared in 1983. She was last seen leaving her regular piano lesson outside the Vatican City walls. Her father was a clerk in the office organizing papal events. Last summer, a former member of De Pedis’ infamous Magliana gang, Antonio Mancini, was interviewed by La Stampa newspaper after spending years in jail. He said De Pedis had loaned the Vatican a huge sum of money. There is speculation it was to help fund Solidarity, the 1980 democracy movement in Poland, John Paul’s homeland. Mancini said Orlandi was kidnapped to pressure the Vatican when some of the money wasn’t returned. De Pedis’ girlfriend had said similar things a few years earlier. At the time, the Vatican was the main shareholder of Banco Ambrosiano, which had gone bankrupt. Roberto Calvi, Ambrosiano’s head, was found hanging from a London bridge in 1982. Mancini said part of De Pedis’ peace deal with the Vatican included burial in Sant’Apollinare, a church built in the 18th century and now run by the ultra-conservative Opus Dei movement. Church officials say De Pedis was buried there because he helped the poor. They’ve had less to say about the ruthless, Rome-based gang he headed. In January, Orlandi’s brother led a demonstration in front of the church, demanding the tomb be opened. Since an anonymous call to Rai Tre in 2005, there has been talk of it perhaps containing evidence of Orlandi’s disappearance. The Orlandi family wants to know if the body in the tomb is indeed De Pedis’. In his letter, Lombardi alludes to the rumours, according to excerpts released by Rai Tre. He also notes the cardinal in charge of the basilica has said he’s willing to have the tomb opened. “I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened yet,” Lombardi writes. Lombardi then discusses the Vatican’s refusal to help Italian police on some aspects of the Orlandi kidnap investigation. He wonders “if the non-collaboration with the Italian authorities . . . was a normal and justifiable affirmation of Vatican sovereignty, or if in fact circumstances were withheld that might have helped clear something up.” Reached by the Star, Lombardi laughed when asked about the letter. “You don’t have anything more important to write about?” he said. “I’ve had enough of this story. It seems like such a secondary thing to me that I have no comment to make.” Earlier leaks of Vatican documents included recent private letters to the Pope complaining of corruption and cronyism in the awarding of contracts. Other documents emerged reigniting allegations of money-laundering at the Vatican’s bank. Finally, a bizarre confidential letter from a Vatican official described a presumed plot to kill Benedict and discussed his potential successor. The day before Lombardi’s letter became public, another TV channel broadcast an interview with a man claiming to be a Vatican employee who leaked one of the documents. He looked like the Mafia turncoats Italians are used to seeing on TV — much of his face was covered by sunglasses, hat and scarf, and his voice was disguised. He complained about the failure to investigate the Orlandi kidnapping and alluded to the death of two Vatican Swiss guards in 1998. In that incident, Alois Estermann, commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard at the Vatican, was killed, along with his wife, by Cedric Tornay, a young Swiss guard who then shot himself. That murder-suicide has spawned books filled with theories as to what really happened. One widely quoted scenario comes from Ferdinando Imposimato, a former magistrate who officially investigated some of the biggest criminal cases in Italy, including the shooting of Pope John Paul in 1981, and cases involving De Pedis’ gang. Imposimato is convinced secret police services in the former Soviet Union were involved in the plot to kill John Paul. He says Estermann was a spy for East Germany’s Stasi secret police, and was involved in Orlandi’s kidnapping. She was targeted because her father was the first to suspect Estermann as a spy, and told Imposimato so in 1981. Estermann was eventually killed, Imposimato says, because he knew too much. Imposimato is now working with the Orlandi family. Both are pushing for a full investigation — and the opening of De Pedis’ tomb.