American journalist named Vatican spokesman

Former Fox News correspondent will be flanked by Spanish reporter.

Pope Francis has appointed American journalist Greg Burke as director of the Vatican's press office, replacing Fr Federico Lombardi who steps down on 1 August after ten years at the helm.

The 56-year-old Burke, who is currently vice director of the Vatican press office, spent 15 years as Fox News’s Rome correspondent before becoming communications adviser at the Vatican in 2012. A native of Missouri, Burke is a "numerary" or celibate member of the conservative Catholic organisation Opus Dei.

Burke will be the first American to hold the high-profile role of papal spokesman and, in another significant shift for the Holy See, Spanish reporter Paloma García Ovejero will become the first woman to serve as vice director of the Vatican press office.

The 40-year-old Madrid journalist was previously the Rome and Vatican correspondent for the Spanish broadcaster Cadena Cope.

The outgoing Lombardi, who like Pope Francis comes for the religious order of the Society of Jesus, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 and then successfully handled the pontiff's unexpected resignation in 2013. Lombardi will now be assisting in the preparation of the general congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome in October to elect a new superior general to succeed Fr Adolofo Nicolas.

Burke is not the first lay person to head the Vatican's press office. It was led by another internationally known Opus Dei layman, Joaquin Navarro Valls, for almost the whole of the long pontificate of St John Paul 2.