I hope you join me in commending His Holiness Pope Francis for suspending Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of the 682,000-member Rhineland Diocese of Limburg.
And what was the cause of this suspension and, hopefully, permanent removal?
Are you sitting down?
This bishop permitted the renovation of his residence and other church buildings at a cost of more than $41 million.
The New York Times reported from Berlin that these luxuries “drew ridicule in the German news media” for “a $20,000 bathtub, a $1.1 million landscaped garden and plans for an 800-square-foot fitness room – as well as a cross to be suspended from the ceiling of a personal chapel – which necessitated the reopening of a renovated roof.”
This German prelate was ordered by Pope Francis to come to Rome. Two days after his arrival and meeting with the Holy Father, it was announced that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst “currently cannot exercise his office.”
By striking contrast to this German bishop’s $41 million luxury, Pope Francis resides in a Spartan guest house in the Vatican rather than in the opulent apartments where his predecessors have resided.
The Catholic Church in Germany has, reported the Times, “grappled for years with declining membership and allegations of sexual abuse by priests, as well as many Catholics’ rejection of its conservative stance on abortion, remarriage after divorce and the role of women.”
“German church experts said Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was unlikely to return to his post, even though the Vatican presented his suspension as temporary.”
I suspect that they may assign him to a minor post in the Vatican bureaucracy where he may be carefully watched and his big spending curbed.
From inside his former diocese, local journalist Joachin Heidersdorf wrote the following of the now-departed bishop:
“He never had a good connection with people. His predecessor regularly walked around Limburg; Tebartz-van Elst had himself driven even for short distances. In his sermons, too, he just reached the heads and not the hearts of the people.”
When he was installed by Pope Benedict in January 2008, he was Germany’s youngest Catholic bishop. He was ordained in 1985 after studying in France and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
But his leadership style created such dissent in his diocese that even before his big-spending scandal broke, there were, reported the Times, “several thousand congregants (who) had already signed a petition asking for his removal. …”
In his defense, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst contended that the reported spending included “10 projects, some of them involving buildings governed by landmarked preservation law that drove up costs, and that his private quarters were a relatively small part of the work.”
But, does that justify a $20,000 bathtub, a $1 million landscaped garden and an 800-square-foot fitness room?
I think not. And I think that is why the pope will permanently relieve that German diocese of this big-spending bishop.