BY MARK GREAVES
POPE BENEDICT XVI has appointed a Jesuit priest as his chief spokesman after Opus Dei member Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls stepped down from the position this week.
Dr Navarro-Valls, a medical doctor, has served for 22 years as director of the Holy See press office but had expressed an interest in moving on and dedicating his time to writing a book.
The Pope accepted his resignation, which was announced on Tuesday.
The Vatican said that the Pope had chosen Fr Federico Lombardi, 63, the Italian director of Vatican Radio and Vatican Television, to succeed him. "Dr Navarro-Valls performed his own long service in this field with exceptional ability, intelligence and dedication," said Fr Lombardi. "I cannot hope to imitate him, but you may depend upon my commitment — within my limits but with all the power at my disposal — to serve the Holy Father."
He added: "I entrust these sentiments to the Lord on the feast day of St Benedict upon which, perhaps not by chance, I receive my appointment to this new service."
Dr Navarro-Valls, 69, from Cartagena in Spain, was only the second layman to become Vatican spokesman. He said in a statement that he was grateful to the Pope for accepting his readiness to leave.
He said: "I know that I have, over these years, received much more than I have been able to give, more than I am at present capable of fully comprehending."
Dr Navarro-Valls might be best remembered for breaking down in tears as he spoke to journalists about the condition of John Paul II shortly before the Pope's death in April last year.
Fr Lombardi will continue in his roles at Vatican Radio and Vatican Television.