Pope Francis called insinuations that St. John Paul II played a role in the 1983 disappearance of Vatican schoolgirl Emanuela Orlandi "offensive and unfounded."

"Certain I am interpreting the feelings of the faithful around the world, I express a thought of gratitude to the memory of St. John Paul II, who in these days has been the object of offensive and unfounded insinuations," the pope said April 16 after reciting the "Regina Caeli" prayer.

Emanuela's brother, Pietro Orlandi, in a television interview April 11 alleged that St. John Paul was involved in his sister's mysterious disappearance.

Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican usher who lived inside the walls of Vatican City, disappeared in Rome June 22, 1983, when she was 15. The Vatican recently opened a new investigation into her disappearance, which also was the subject of a 2022 Netflix documentary.

In the television interview, Pietro Orlandi played an audio recording of someone he said was close to a mafia group allegedly linked to his sister's disappearance. The speaker said that St. John Paul was involved in bringing young girls to the Vatican to be sexually exploited.

Immediately before the interview, Orlandi had met with Alessandro Diddi, Vatican City's chief prosecutor, for more than eight hours to discuss the case.

Orlandi said in the interview that he was told St. John Paul would sometimes leave the Vatican at night with two Polish monsignors and that "it certainly wasn't to bless houses."

"I did not say 'John Paul II is a pedophile,'" he added, "but I said it is right to investigate 360 degrees."

Diddi, who is leading the Vatican investigation, called Laura Sgrò, the Orlandi family lawyer, to the Vatican April 15 to request information about the sources of Orlandi's comments and of the audio recording. Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, later said she invoked attorney-client privileges in the meeting.

In an editorial for Vatican News, Andrea Tornielli, editorial director at the Dicastery for Communication, denounced the "slanderous accusations" presented by Orlandi as a "sleazy" and "absurd" defamation of the former pope.

In an open letter to the Vatican's communications executives, including Tornielli and Bruni, Sgrò said that Orlandi had never accused St. John Paul of anything, but rather "requested an investigation of facts reported to him."

"For 40 long years, my clients have asked for justice and truth for their beloved Emanuela," Sgrò said.

Over those four decades, leads in the Orlandi case have led nowhere, even though multiple investigations have taken place and several tombs -- in Rome and at the Vatican -- have been opened following tips that Emanuela was buried there.

Diddi, the Vatican prosecutor, opened a new file in the case in January, and has said Pope Francis gave him free rein to investigate " 'from the lowest to the highest up' in the Vatican and to "silence nothing."