Dr Francesca Di Giovanni has been given a senior diplomatic role as the new under-secretary at the Section for Relations with States and will have responsibility for working with global bodies such as the United Nations. In that role, she will be responsible for running a division that coordinates the Holy See's relations with the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations.
The Roman Catholic Church's leadership is nearly completely male-dominated, and women are not allowed to be ordained as priests.In recent months, however, Francis has expressed a desire to include more women in decision-making roles.
Born in Palermo, Di Giovanni earned a law degree and began working as an official at the Section for Relations with States in 1993, focusing her work on issues such as "migrants and refugees, worldwide humanitarian law, communications, private global law, the status of women, intellectual property, and tourism", the Vatican said.
Di Giovanni served in the same department in a lower position.
While acknowledging that her appointment was "an unprecedented decision" by Pope Francis that "represents an indication of an attention toward women", Di Giovanni said that her new responsibilities were connected to her work "rather than to the fact of being a woman". Di Giovanni is a specialist in worldwide law and human rights.
"I would like to be able to contribute to the realisation of the Holy Father's vision, with my other colleagues who work in this area of the Secretariat of State, but also with other women, and there are many of them, who are working to build fraternity in this worldwide dimension too".
Besides Di Giovanni, the most prominent women in Vatican leadership positions are Barbara Jatta, who was appointed as director of Vatican Museums, and Cristiane Murray, who is the deputy head of the Vatican's press office.
She added: 'A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart. Mary Ann Hinsdale, a professor of theology at Boston College, cheered the appointment of Di Giovanni.