The principles section of the new constitution says "any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism", making no distinction between lay men and lay women.
Pope Francis has 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.
The document was released on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of Francis' installation as pope and the feast of St. Joseph, an important figure to Francis’ ministry.
It will take effect on June 5, replacing the founding constitution, Pastor Bonus, penned by St John Paul II in 1988.
One part of the preamble of the constitution says: "The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church."
It adds that lay men and lay women "should have roles of government and responsibility".
The principles section says "any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism" if the pope decides 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 one of the major changes, it brings the pope’s advisory commission on preventing sexual abuse into the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office which oversees the canonical investigations of abuse cases.
Previously, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors existed as an ad hoc commission that reported to the pope but had no real institutional weight or power.
It often found itself at odds with the more powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reviews all cases of abuse.
Now the advisory commission is part of the newly named Dicastry for the Doctrine of the Faith, where presumably its members who include abuse survivors can exert influence on the decisions taken by the prelates who weigh whether predator priests are sanctioned and how.
Francis was elected pope in 2013 in large part on his promise to reform the bulky Vatican bureaucracy, which acts as the organ of central governance for the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church.
He named a Cabinet of cardinal advisers who have met periodically since his election to help him draft the changes.
Much of the reform work has been rolled out piecemeal over the years, with offices consolidated and financial reforms issued. But the publication of the new document, for now only in Italian, finalises the process.