Dr Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer, has been appointed to a senior diplomatic role as the new under-secretary at the Section for Relations with States. In the newly created role, she will be responsible for managing the Vatican’s relationship with multilateral organisations such as the United Nations.
Di Giovanni has been an official at the Secretariat of State for 27 years, working with mutli-national bodies across many areas including international humanitarian law, refugees, communications, the status of women, tourism, private international law and intellectual property.
Her appointment to the senior post is significant for the Roman Catholic Church, where leadership remains almost completely male-dominated.
Di Giovanni says she was taken by surprise when appointed to the role of undersecretary.
“I sincerely never would have thought the Holy Father would have entrusted this role to me,” she told Vatican News.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention toward women.”
Di Giovanni noted that in his homily on New Year’s day, Pope Francis talked about the important contribution of women in decision-making.
“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” he said in the homily on World Day of Peace.
“Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful.”
Di Giovanni joins just a handful of other women who hold senior decision-making positions in the Vatican. The two most prominent women are Barbara Jatta, head of Vatican Museums, and Cristiane Murray, deputy head of the Holy See press office.
Last year, Pope Francis made an historic move by appointing seven women as full members of the Vatican congregation that oversees the world’s Catholic religious orders.