Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former private secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, to a diplomatic role in the Baltic states.

The Vatican announced Monday that Gänswein will serve as the apostolic nuncio, or papal ambassador, to Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.

The appointment comes after months of speculation and rumor across Rome and the Church in Germany as to Gänswein’s future after the death of Benedict XVI.

The relationship between Gänswein and the current pope has been notably strained. In a recent Spanish-language interview book, “El Sucesor,” Pope Francis went so far as to say Benedict was “being used” by Gänswein in the context of the publication of a “tell-all” book.

Last year, Pope Francis instructed Gänswein to return to Germany, leaving him without any official role in the Church. The 67-year-old has resided in his home region of the Archdiocese of Freiburg in southern Germany since July 2023, where he is an honorary canon in the Freiburg cathedral.

Before his departure from the Eternal City, Gänswein spent many years in Rome. He served as Benedict XVI’s personal secretary from 2003 until the Bavarian pope’s death on Dec. 31, 2022. Benedict also appointed him to serve as the prefect of the papal household in 2012, a role he carried into the pontificate of Pope Francis and concluded in February 2023.

Hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a blacksmith was ordained a priest in 1984 by Archbishop Oskar Saier in Freiburg and holds a doctorate in canon law from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

As apostolic nuncio to the Baltic states, Gänswein will serve as the permanent diplomatic representation of the Holy See and will perform similar duties to an ambassador.

The Baltic countries have a substantial Christian population. According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of Lithuanians are Christian with 75% of adults identifying as Catholic. Latvia and Estonia both have considerable Orthodox and Lutheran populations with Catholics only making up 1% of Estonia’s population.

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Mass attendance is low across the Baltic states with only 7% of Catholics in Latvia and 10% in Lithuania saying they attend Mass weekly.

Gänswein succeeds Archbishop Pedro López Quintana, who served as the nuncio to the Baltic states until Pope Francis reassigned him as apostolic nuncio to Austria in 2019.