The Bishop of Limburg is embroiled in controversy and now has to stand trial for giving false testimony in court. For many in the diocese of Limburg, he represents a problem.
German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has been under criticism for his sinfully expensive bishop's seat for a long time. With parishioners he is infamous for his authoritarian leadership. Now, the Bishop of Limburg also has problems with the law.
Tebartz-van Elst allegedly provided false testimony, to the regional court of Hamburg, relating to a lawsuit over his higher than usual expenses. The suit stems from an interview with the German news magazine "Der Spiegel", in which the bishop claimed to have flown business class on his way to an aid project - a statement he also wanted to defend in court. However, in reality Tebertz-van Elst and his vicar general flew first class.
Collaboration with the bishop has become impossible
For the Association of the German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), Tebartz-van Elst crossed a line. The head of the BDKJ, Dirk Tänzler, is in constant contact with his colleagues from the diocese of Limburg.
"They clearly say that they currently can't imagine working together with the bishop and that they cannot go along with this any more," he told DW in an interview. "That charge is one issue, but definitely not the only one."
Two weeks ago, the BDKJ demanded change regarding "leadership personnel and leadership quality" in an open letter. "We cannot pass faith on like this," the letter read.
Far from reality
Hubtertus Janssen, a 75-year-old former pastor in the Limburgian city of Diez close to the city of Koblenz, was one of the first to criticize the leadership of Bishop Tebart-van Elst. But this current development astonishes even him.
"It seems to me that at the moment that the bishop is living in his own world and doesn't notice reality anymore. Or maybe he simply can't see reality any more," he said.
The current events remind him of an experience he had with Tebartz-van Elst in the past. According to Janssen, the bishop once said on a TV show 'that he sometimes experiences God speaking directly through him and that he uses him as a tool.'
"So assuming that he really believes that, then maybe I can understand why he is so convinced that he doesn't make mistakes," Janssen said.
Authoritarian and resistant to advice
Tebartz-van Elst had caused outrage in Limburg with certain decisions soon after entering office. One such decision increased the dues of the congregation at St. Antonius, supervised by Janssen, to an additional 11,000 euros ($15,000) per year, starting from 2008.
The local council decided to write a letter to parishioners asking them to help come up with the money. Shorty afterwards, newspapers reported that a new bishop's seat was to be built for between five and six million euros ($6.7 to 8.1 million).
The community was angry and, according to Janssen, the new bishop attracted attention for his authoritarian leadership. Critical employees were let go and instead of electing a new Diocesan Priest's Council - which was common practice - Tebart-van Elst simply approved the old one.
"It was very clear, the bishop quickly turned out to be authoritarian, resistant to advice and not willing to have a dialog," Janssen said.
Everyone kept silent for too long
Now, according to new reports, the construction of the new bishop's seat will be far more expensive than previously assumed. In fact, it will cost more than 30 million euros ($40 million). Still, the bishop rejects all criticism.
"It puzzles me how Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has been up to no good for almost six years now," Jannsen said while shaking his head. "And I also don't understand why the cathedral chapter has kept quiet when really it should have interfered," he added. "And why did the Conference of Catholic Bishops sit back and do nothing? Now it has to deal with the disaster."
One reason why the Vatican has yet to seriously rebuke the bishop more thus far could be that the pope wasn't sufficiently informed about the situation, said Janssen. But now, they have to react, he said.
"If nothing happens now then I think the trust many have in Pope Francis might get lost - and that would obviously be a shame," Janssen said.
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