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Germany

'Bishop should wait until smoke clears'

The Bishop of Limburg is under criticism for overspending on his new home and for giving a false legal declaration. Church law expert Stephan Haering says things are bad, but he shouldn't resign yet.

Deutsche Welle: If the reports about what has been happening in Limburg are all true, do you see any other possibility than some sort of resignation by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst?

Stephan Haering: It's all speculation so far, since we don't yet have such a clear picture, but there are other possibilities: for example that a co-bishop could be appointed with special powers, so that he'd have to countersign everything - that's possible in canon law.

Wouldn't that be an impossible situation, to have a bishop in office who didn't have any power?

It would certainly be extraordinary situation, and it could only be temporary.

Can the bishop be dismissed, or does he have somehow to be convinced to submit his resignation?

No, the Holy Father can recall him from office; he can give him another task; he can also dismiss him, so the pope can certainly take the initiative.

And what would the bishop have to have done for it to come to that?

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, in front of his new home Photo: Boris Roessler/dpa

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst's new house has cost at least six times more than originally estimated

If he's committed a serious crime - if he killed someone, for example - then the pope wouldn't want to leave him as a bishop. That's a very abstract example, but anything else would be speculation. It depends on the judgment of the pope - if he thinks that a specific office-holder can no longer work fruitfully in the task to which he has been called, then he'll be recalled.

What would be the effect on the German church if the pope were to dismiss him?

Probably, if the pope felt there should be a change, it'll happen in the way that it will be made clear to the bishop that he should submit his resignation, so that the initiative formally remained with the bishop..

Does the penal order which was delivered today (10.10.2013) [in which the bishop is accused of making an untruthful legal affirmation] make a difference?

That of course is a liability for a bishop, but I don't know if he will appeal against it - he has the right to do so - but if he accepts the order and thus indirectly admits that he's made a false affirmation, it would certainly put a strain on his office.

Do you think he can hold on any longer?

I think he ought to wait until the media smoke has cleared a bit. He shouldn't take a decision while matters are still at boiling point. He should consider the matter calmly - things might look different in two weeks time.

Stephan Haering is professor of canon law at the University of Munich.

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