On Thursday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has tapped Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero as the new prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy – a post that has been vacant since last year when its former head, Cardinal George Pell, was charged with historical sexual abuse of a minor.

Currently serving as the Delegate for the Interprovincial Roman Houses and Works for the Jesuit Father General, Guerrero, 60, is part of the Jesuit province of Spain and will take over his new position in the Secretariat in January 2020, according to a Nov. 14 press release from the office of the Jesuit Curia in Rome.

Announced Thursday, Guerrero’s appointment comes just one day after the High Court of Australia decided to hear a second appeal from Pell, who in 2017 was found guilty of sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s.

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Born in Merida, Spain in 1959, Guerrero entered the Society of Jesus in 1979 and was ordained a priest in 1992. He holds degrees in economics, philosophy and theology, and has studied throughout South America, France and the United States.

In 2008 he was named provincial of Castilla in Spain and in 2014 was sent to Mozambique, serving as treasurer and project coordinator of the Jesuit mission there. He was tapped as Delegate for the Interprovincial Roman Houses and Works in 2017 – a position that oversees some 360 Jesuits and which will now be taken up by Father Johan Verschueren, who currently serves as Superior of the Region of the European Low Countries.

Speaking to Vatican News, Guerrero said it was “a joy” to receive his new mission, which he said came “directly from the pope.”

“It is a privileged way to realize my vocation,” he said, adding that his vow of obedience “has always led me along unexpected paths, led me where I would never have dared venture. And so, I am grateful. Obedience is, for me, a privileged place of encounter with the Lord.”

Recalling his reaction upon hearing of his new appointment, Guerrero said the word “surprise” doesn’t quite do it. He said he was surprised when he was sent to Mozambique, but that he needs to find a new word to describe his shock at the new job, “because it was in no way anything that I imagined for myself, even as a possibility.”

“This call was something completely unexpected,” he said, explaining that he first felt “numb” with anxiety and fear, but is looking forward to stepping into the new position with confidence both in God and in the team already working in the Secretariat.

Noting that he is an outsider to the Roman Curia, Guerrero said he will be “entering a new world,” and will need to take time to learn the ropes and become familiar with the procedures and the relationship the Secretariat has with other Vatican departments.

“I will need some time to learn to know you. I am willing to dedicate myself fully to the task that has been entrusted to me,” he said.

Ever since Pell first took a leave of absence to face his abuse charges in Australia in 2017, it was assumed that he would not return to Rome as legal proceedings played out. Once he officially stepped down, expectations have been high as to who would take his place.

Earlier this year rumors went out suggesting that Francis was looking for a woman to fill Pell’s position, and that Claudia Ciocca, the current Director of Control and Vigilance of the Secretariat for the Economy, was a candidate. Today’s announcement lays those rumors to rest.

When Francis was elected, financial reform was one of his top mandates as a new pontiff, however, in his six years in office, most observers would say that not only has the financial reform been stalled, but it has been dead on its feet largely due to infighting and scandal. It is widely believed that insiders resistant to change tried to block Pell’s efforts at cleaning house, thwarting the reform from the start.

Many have also complained that Francis has appointed friends to key curial positions who lack competence, but who are considered close allies, making it unlikely that any real reform will happen.

Though an outsider, Guerrero as a fellow Jesuit has a connection to the pope, and a background in economics. It remains to be seen if his appointment will put the Vatican financial reform project back on track.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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