Pope Francis appoints first woman to serve as secretary-general of Vatican city

On November 4, Pope Francis appointed Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Raffaella Petrini to serve as the secretary general of the Governorate of Vatican City State.

Petrini, 52, is an Italian nun. Since 2005, she worked as an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Her new position places her as the second-in-command for governing the small state. She is the first woman to hold the position and is now the highest ranking female in the Vatican.

The position is like that of a state’s deputy governor or a city’s deputy mayor. In this case, she is the number two person of the Governorate, which operates out of one of the Vatican’s palaces and employs over 2,000 people. Her role encompasses being an overseer of the Vatican’s administrative operations. Historically, those in her new role were bishops.

Although Pertini is the highest-ranking female, she is not the first woman Pope Francis has appointed to a traditionally male-dominated role. Earlier this year, in February, he appointed French Sister Nathalie Becquart, also 52, to be an undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops.

She is expected to be the first woman to vote in a synod of bishops. In August, Salesian Sister Alessandra Smerilli was named the interim secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development by the pope. He promised several years ago to initiate more of a gender balance within the church.

Petrini was born in Rome in 1969. She attended the Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli (LUISS), where she earned a degree in political science. She later earned a doctorate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), and is now a professor there.

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