Pope Francis has appointed a woman to the role of the Secretariat of State for the Vatican, making her the first female to hold such a senior management position in the Catholic Church.
Francesca Di Giovanni, 66, has been given the role after working inside the Vatican as a lawyer for more than 27 years.
Her new duties include managing the team that deal with the Church’s relationships with international bodies such as the United Nations.
Pope Francis has always been vocal about the need to give women more prominent roles within the Church.
He has also taken a more relaxed approach than is traditional regarding issues such as homosexuality and celibacy.
Ms Di Giovanni was delighted with her new role, and said it shows the Pope’s commitment to modernising some of the Church’s standpoints regarding a variety of matters.
She said: “The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women.
“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman.
“I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”
Pope Francis made headlines earlier this year when he instinctively slapped the hand of a female supporter after she wouldn’t let go of him.
He issued an apology saying: “We lose patience many times. It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday. Every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God, who was born of a woman.”