Germany's 'bishop of bling' resigns

Published 26 March 2014  |  

Pope Francis has today formally accepted the resignation of the Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, following a scandal around the bishop's spendthrift tendencies.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, 54, is leaving his post 21 years before official Catholic retirement age.  He was quoted by Reuters as apologising for any "carelessness or misjudgment on my part" while still denying any wrongdoing.

News broke last October that the bishop allegedly spent more than £26 million on his luxury home in the Diocese of Limburg in the central western part of the country, home to 693,230 Catholics.

German media sources said the refurbishment to the complex supposed to only cost £4.59 million, but the total cost soared above that.

The bishop's quarters were reportedly fitted with a £12,500 bath, a conference table costing £20,870, and a private chapel worth £2.49 million.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has also come under criticism for taking a first class flight to visit the poor in India.

When this was revealed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst offered to resign, but instead Pope Francis suspended him and organised a Church commission to head an investigation into the matter.

The largess of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was particularly noticeable and widely criticised in a country where many people pay a Church tax. The tax raised £4.34 billion for Catholic churches in 2012 and £3.84 billion for Protestants.

German lay Catholics have welcomed the move, with Alois Glueck, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics quoted by Reuters saying: "It is very important for the Church in all of Germany to draw the necessary conclusions ... this applies especially to transparency in Church finances."

Church sources were quoted by the BBC as calling for the Limburg Diocese to accept the bishop's resignation "with docility".

They also said that the Church should now begin to work on restoring a "climate of charity and reconciliation".

Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed irritation and frustration with Catholic Church leaders who maintain luxury lifestyles. He himself has stepped down from his Papal apartments to more modest accommodations.

This was expressed in the case of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst by the Pope choosing to make the bishop wait for eight days in Rome, before receiving him in the Vatican.

Although Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is expected to keep his title, it is expected he will be given a low profile job in the Church away from public view.

Auxiliary Bishop Manfred Grothe, the former Archbishop of Paderborn, has stepped in to run the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop for the area

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