VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Saturday (Mar 19) issued a new constitution for the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia, stating that any baptised lay Catholic, including women, can head Vatican departments.
Most Vatican departments have been headed by male clerics, usually cardinals. The new, 54-page constitution, called Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), took more than nine years to complete.
It will take effect on Jun 5, replacing one approved in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.
One part of the preamble of the constitution says: "The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelisers in the Church," adding that lay men and women "should have roles of government and responsibility".
The principles section of the constitution says "any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism" if the pope decides that are qualified and appoints them. It makes no distinction between lay men and lay women.
The 1988 constitution stated that departments were to be headed a cardinal or a bishop and assisted by a secretary, experts, and administrators.
In an interview with Reuters in 2018, the pope disclosed he had shortlisted a woman to head a Vatican economic department but she could not take he job for personal reasons.
Last year, Francis for the first time named a woman to the number two position in the governorship of Vatican City, making Sister Raffaella Petrini the highest-ranking woman in the world's smallest state.
Also last year, he named Italian nun Sister Alessandra Smerilli to the interim position of secretary of the Vatican's development office, which deals with justice and peace issues.
In addition, Francis has named Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters, as co-undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, a department that prepares major meetings of world bishops held every few years.