American Greg Burke, 56, brought in by the Vatican in 2013 to overhaul its public-relations operation, will take up the post on August 1, when outgoing chief spokesman Federico Lombardi steps down.
His deputy will be Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Overo, 40, previously the Rome and Vatican correspondent for the Spanish broadcaster COPE.
Burke, who also worked as correspondent in Rome for the Catholic weekly National Catholic Reporter and Time magazine, is a “numerary” member of the influential conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, meaning he is a lay person but is celibate.
Vatican watcher John Allen, writing for the Cruxnow website, said the appointments showed the pope’s wisdom and strength.
“He’s debunked impressions of being anti-American, he’s shown that competence matters, and he’s signalled openness to groups seen as conservative,” he wrote.
“For a bonus, Francis tapped a lay woman as Burke’s number two… a veteran journalist who’s well-liked and well-respected in the Vatican press corps, and who brings enormous good will to the post”.
Jesuit Father Lombardi, who turns 74 next month, steps down after heading up the press office for 10 years, through much of Benedict XVI’s papacy — and his shock resignation — as well as the first three years of Francis’s.
Burke’s appointment may rile the Vatican’s old guard, the Italians, but it will likely soothe those worried Francis is overly liberal.
“At a time when some see Pope Francis as a liberal stacking the deck with like-minded progressives, this appointment runs counter to the stereotypes,” Allen wrote.