Andrew Medichini / AP
Pope Francis has announced that he will appoint a woman for the first time to a directive position in the Secretary of State, one of the most important departments of the Vatican.
Francesca Di Giovanni, who has worked in the Secretariat for 27 years, will be elevated to the position of undersecretary of the state relations section. It will handle Vatican relations with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is almost completely dominated by men, and women cannot be ordained as priests. However, in recent months, Francis has expressed his desire to include more women in decision-making roles.
Di Giovanni, who specializes in migrants and refugees and in international law, says she was surprised to be appointed undersecretary. “Honestly, I would never have thought that the Holy Father would have entrusted me with this role,” he said in an interview with Vatican News.
The Secretary of State deals with the operations and diplomatic affairs of the city-state. Di Giovanni will be the first person to occupy this particular position.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, which, beyond me personally, represents an indication of attention towards women,” Di Giovanni said.
“But responsibility is related to work, rather than being a woman,” he added.
In addition to Di Giovanni, the most prominent women in Vatican leadership positions are Barbara Jatta, who was appointed director of the Vatican Museums, and Cristiane Murray, who is the deputy head of the Vatican press office.
Di Giovanni noted that in his homily on New Year’s Day, Francis spoke about the value of women’s voices.
“Women are donors and mediators of peace and must be fully included in the decision-making processes,” said Francis. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world is more united, more peaceful. Therefore, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, a theology professor at Boston College, applauded the appointment of Di Giovanni.
“I hope your action will point to future appointments of talented and capable women to other departments and departments of the Vatican,” Hinsdale told the National Catholic Reporter. “It’s time!”
Also this week, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI seemed to reverse a promise he made to remain silent when he resigned in 2013. In an unpublished book, he and a co-author defended the “need” for priests to remain celibate after Francis pointed out that he could loosen such restrictions in areas of the Amazon, where priests are scarce.
Now, it seems that Benedict is putting some distance between him and the book. His co-author, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, he said in a tweet on tuesday that future book publications would include Sarah as the only author, with contributions from Benedict. The actual text, he said, will remain unchanged.