Argentina born and bred Pope Francis has booted a bishop because of the bling the bishop buys. Say that five times really fast. Jokes aside, Pope Francis told a German bishop to leave, permanently, his Limburg diocese after the faithful got in an uproar over the $34 million estate the bishop built. Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst had been temporarily removed from his post in October to allow time for an inquiry by the church.
The cause of the controversy was the new residence that the monsignor had built, or more specifically, how much it cost. Monsignor Elst defended the expenditures, claiming that the cost actually covered 10 projects and the proposed budget was busted because the buildings were under the domain of Germany’s historical society.
In Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church doors and lit the Reformation, the hue and cry from the faithful was gigantic. Remembering that Luther’s main complaint were the excesses and abuses within the church hierarchy, people couldn’t set still for the building project. Even non-Catholics were outraged at the project as a church tax in Germany brings billions of dollars a year into the church treasury.
Wednesday the Vatican announced that the inquiry could no longer effectively run his ministry in Limburg. Elst, who had originally offered his resignation on October 20, was given his walking papers just now. While Monsignor Elst will get a new job at the appropriate time, according to a Vatican spokesman, Monsignor Manfred Grothe will step up and replace Elst. Grothe, who has been serving as an auxiliary bishop, said in a statement that he hopes the “faithful of Limburg” will accept the change with docility and a willingness to work together in charity and reconciliation.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the leader of the Bishops’ Conference in Germany, spoke with reporters and said he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Limburg faithful move on.
“For that we will need reconciliation, trust and the power of prayer,” he said.
One of Francis’ repeated mandates to priests and bishops has been to be a model of spiritual living in a church that “…is poor and is for the poor.”
Before being elevated to Pope, Francis was the Archbishop in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. He spent so much time in the ghetto, or “villas,” that he acquired the nickname the “slum bishop.” As archbishop, he was known for riding the “subte” (subway) on his rounds, living simply by cooking his own meals and even called the newsstand personally to stop delivery of his daily paper.
His first year as pope has not been without controversy. Many in the church have been upset with Francis’ relaxed attitudes and his call for the church to focus more on service and less on doctrine. Others, have questioned what he did, or didn’t do, from 1976 − 1983 during Argentina’s “Dirty War” when 30,000 Argentines were “disappeared” by the military dictatorship.
The pope has shown that his statements about living simply are meant to be followed, beginning with the church hierarchy. The bishop of bling may be wishing he had heeded the call to a simple life sooner.
By Jerry Nelson