VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Monday named a former Fox TV correspondent, Greg Burke, as his spokesman and tapped a Spanish woman to be the deputy, the first time a woman has held the post.
The change is aimed at making the spokesman's job — long directed at Italy and Italians — more international in focus, and reflects the demographics of the Catholic Church during the first-ever Latin American papacy.
"Obviously Italian is the internal language of the Vatican," Burke said in a phone interview. "But half of the Catholic world population is Spanish-speaking, and if you want to speak to the globe, the language is English."
Burke, 56, takes over from the Rev. Federico Lombardi, 73, a Jesuit like Francis who has been Vatican spokesman for a decade.
Burke, who is a member of the conservative Opus Dei movement, in December moved in as Lombardi's deputy after working as a communications adviser in the Vatican's secretariat of state since 2012.
His deputy will be Paloma Garcia Ovejero, 40, currently the Vatican correspondent for Spanish broadcaster Cadena Cope of the Spanish bishops' conference.
Both, therefore, come into the spokesman's office having been part of the Vatican press corps and aware of the needs of a 24/7 news cycle that seems particularly interested in the Francis pontificate.
The change is part of an overhaul of the Vatican's entire communications operations that has centralized authority under the new Secretariat for Communications headed by Monsignor Dario Vigano.
Vigano presented Burke and Garcia to the Vatican press corps Monday after the three had a tete-a-tete with Francis.
Lombardi was named spokesman exactly 10 years ago Monday, adding to his already heavy load as director of Vatican Radio.
He won the respect of journalists for his dry humor, reliable readouts and cool amid many Vatican storms. From sex abuse scandals to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI's historic resignation and the election of a fellow Jesuit as pope, Lombardi rarely seemed to get flustered.
Lombardi told The Associated Press on Monday he didn't know what he would do in the future but that "I don't foresee disappearing completely from the Vatican," suggesting a possible informal communications advisory role down the line.
He said he had always offered Francis his availability to step aside as part of the Vatican's revamping of its communications operations and said the time simply had come for the change.