Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, accepted the official resignation of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, of Limburg, in Germany. The resigning churchman’s spending angered his congregation and earned him the nickname “Bishop of Bling.” The Vatican stated that that such recombinant spending hindered the official from carrying out his duties “fruitfully.”
According to a German news report, Tebartz-van Elst had spent about $43 million for the renovation of his residence and other church buildings. Household luxuries included a $20,000 bath tub and over $600,000 on artwork. Last fall the former leader paid a 20,000 euro fine for lying to the court about a flight he he had taken to India. Tebartz-van Elst claimed to have flown business class, when in reality he had flown first class, on a trip to minister to some of the world’s poorest people.
Tebartz-van Elst had been suspended from his duties since last fall, following the churchman’s offer to resign. The pope’s decision whether or not to reinstate the church official depended on an investigation. During the investigation, the church ordered the church leader to stay out of his jurisdiction. The negative response by many in the diocese and Germany as a whole, comes at a particularly shaky time, since the German Catholic church had been enjoying an increase in popularity thanks to Francis’s wide personal appeal and dedication to genuine spirituality.
The pope had been hesitant to accept the “Bishop of Bling”s resignation, but officially did so this week. However, his hesitancy did not prevent Pope Francis from showing his displeasure with the situation. Last year, he forced his subordinate to wait for eight days in Rome before the Vatican allowed him audience. While Tebartz-van Elst apologized for “carelessness or misjudgment on my part,” he denies any wrongdoing.
The recent perceived lack of financial transparency also hit a sore spot as Germany’s church tax offers the institution billions of euros per year. In spite of accepting the financial support, the Limburg diocese had announced that it would commit to a degree of austerity, and cut clergy salaries. The pope urged the faithful of Limburg to rediscover a “willingness to rediscover a climate of charity and reconciliation.” Despite strong criticisms by laity and clergy, the bishop is set to receive another post at a later time. Another church officer, Monsignor Manfred Grothe, has been appointed to run the diocese as an administrator on the Vatican’s behalf.
The 54-year old German bishop was born in Twisteden, the second of five children to a farming family near a Catholic pilgrimage village in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
As the German Catholic church finds a replacement after the resignation, it will have to pick a bishop with much less so-called bling, and taste for the very expensive. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the investigation, had been particularly blunt in his criticism of Tebartz-van Elst. The church may look to an official such as him to find the next fit for the job.
By Ian Erickson
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