Pope Francis named two experienced journalists – including its first female vice director – to lead the Vatican press office.
Greg Burke, a native of St Louis, succeeds Italian Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, who retires after 10 years as head of the Vatican press office, the Vatican announced on 11 July. Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero fills in Burke’s spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.
Burke served as special communications adviser in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State starting in 2012 before he was named by Pope Francis as the vice director of the press office last December.
A graduate of Columbia University’s school of journalism, Burke spent 24 of his past 28 years based in Rome as a journalist – with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and the Fox News network.
The middle child of six, Burke grew up in St Louis Hills and went to Jesuit-run St Louis University High School. He is a numerary member of Opus Dei.
Mons Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications, paid tribute to Fr Lombardi’s 10 years of service at the press office.
Speaking to journalists on 11 July, Mons Vigano praised Fr Lombardi’s professional work and his “ecclesial vision” of the church.
Born in northern Italy near Turin in 1942, Fr Lombardi was named program director of Vatican Radio in 1990 and general director of the Vatican television centre, CTV, in 2001.
During the reorganisation of Vatican offices under Pope Benedict XVI, Fr Lombardi was appointed general director of the radio in 2005 and head of the Vatican press office in 2006, while continuing to lead CTV. Before his retirement in 2013, Pope Benedict named Mons Vigano the new director of CTV.
Fr Lombardi retired as head of Vatican Radio in February this year when the Secretariat for Communications took over the general administration of the radio.
Garcia Ovejero, who studied journalism in Spain and earned a masters degree in management strategies and communications at New York University, worked as the Italy and Vatican correspondent for Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena COPE.
“For me it’s an honour, it’s a service and it’s another way of serving the church. But it is the same church and, in some way, the same type of work: to proclaim the Good News and to transmit faithfully and with dignity the pope’s message,” Garcia Ovejero told Catholic News Service.
The Spanish journalist downplayed her role as the first female vice director of the press office, saying that the first women who served the church “were the ones who found the empty tomb and proclaimed the Resurrection to the apostles”.
“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,” she told CNS.
Garcia Ovejero said she hoped her role will be to serve and fulfill “the will of God, the will of the pope and, in every possible way, the will of the journalists”.
The Vatican announced that Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and Burke will begin their respective roles on 1 August.
In Washington, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated all three and thanked Fr Lombardi for helping to “spread the Gospel throughout the world across two pontificates”.
“I was especially grateful to have learned not only from his media expertise but also his deep love for the church during the six days we spent together as Pope Francis visited the United States,” the archbishop said.
He said Burke was “long known to us in the United States as a devoted man of the church and an unparalleled communicator”.