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Pope Francis Names American As New Press Office Director

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The Vatican announced Monday that American journalist Greg Burke will step into one of the most visible roles for the church and replace Father Federico Lombardi as director of the Holy See press office.

In the same press release, the Vatican said Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero will fill the role of vice director of the press office that Burke vacates. It is the first time a lay woman has held that position.

As the Pope’s top spokesperson, Burke will be one of the most visible figures in the Vatican, where prominent positions rarely held by Americans. Burke has spent over two decades in Rome as a journalist with National Catholic Register, Fox News and TIME. Both appointments of foreign journalists are notable, since Italians are often the top administrators in the Catholic Church.

When asked about being the first woman to hold her position, Ovejero told Catholic News Service, “I am in no way the first woman. The first woman above all in the church, in the Vatican and in the press office is the Virgin Mary.”

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Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com