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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has appointed a female Italian lawyer to a high-ranking role in the Vatican’s diplomatic division, further cementing his credentials as one of the most progressive Holy Fathers in history.

Francesca Di Giovanni will serve as the under-secretary in the Section for Relations with States, the arm of the Catholic church that handles the Holy See’s political and diplomatic activity, according to a story published in the church’s official media Vatican News on Wednesday.

The story notes that Di Giovanni is the first woman to hold a position at that level in the Secretariat of State, the department which includes the Section for Relations with States.

The Roman Catholic Church currently only permits men to be ordained as priests and much of the Vatican bureaucracy remains male-dominated.

“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of attention towards women,” Di Giovanni said, according to the news site. “But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman.”

She said she was surprised by the appointment, as she “never would have thought the Holy Father would have entrusted this role to me.”

In his New Year’s Day address, the Pope denounced violence against women and spoke about gender equality, telling the congregation that women “should be fully included in decision-making processes.”

“Every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole,” he said.

Di Giovanni referenced the Pope’s address, adding that as a woman, she might have “certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart.”

“I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of “encouraging dialogue” and “seeking diplomatic solutions” in the diplomatic community.

Di Giovanni was born in Palermo on the southern Italian island of Sicily and has worked in the Secretariat of State for 27 years, according to the report. She holds a law degree and has worked in the areas of migrants and refugees, international humanitarian law, and the status of women.

(PHOTO: Remo Casilli/Getty Images)