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Newspaper: 'Luxury' Bishop of Limburg not inclined to resign

A German weekly has reported that Limburg's embattled bishop, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, is unwilling to give up his post. The bishop has spent the week in Rome awaiting a papal audience; he's been made to wait.

Sunday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg was unlikely to give up his job over criticism of the costs of a building project including his residences and offices. The project's estimated costs have spiraled to a total of 31 million euros ($42.4 million), and could rise further.

According to the newspaper report, which cited church sources in Limburg, the bishop believed his name would be gradually cleared with time, as the role played by other officials became apparent.

Tebartz-van Elst has spent the week in the Vatican, expecting an emergency audience with Pope Francis. An appointment was never fixed for the meeting, and Limburg's bishop was kept waiting again on Saturday. The report claimed that the German bishop's papal audience had been scheduled for Monday.

Instead ofTebartz-van Elst, the pope met with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet on Saturday, who had spoken to Limburg's so-called "luxury bishop" earlier in the week. The Frankfurt paper, based in the same German state of Hesse as Limburg, reported that Ouellet - who once expressed his "complete confidence" in Tebartz-van Elst - was adopting a less merciful position on the matter.

Poor and for the poor

Ouellet, himself considered a contender to succeed Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year, is the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. As such, he holds perhaps the second-most powerful word on personnel issues after the Argentine pope formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Pope Francis met with German Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the scheduled member of the German delegation in the Holy See this week, behind closed doors on Thursday.

The Vatican has requested that Zollitsch file a formal report on events in Limburg, prompting speculation Tebartz-van Elst's fate might be decided only after the report is filed. Again citing church sources, the Frankfurt weekly reported that the Pope responded simply by saying "excuse me?" when told by Zollitsch that the current estimate of 31 million euros might yet rise to 40 million.

The rising costs of the small complex incuding the bishop's residence and offices - slated to cost 5.5 million euros in December 2010 when construction began and subject to several revisions since - have been contrasted in the German press with the comparatively new pope's calls for the Roman Catholic Church to be "poor and for the poor."

A further dispute with the weekly news magazine Spiegel has left Tebartz-van Elst facing penalty charges from Hamburg's public prosecutors for issuing a pair of false statements under oath.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said earlier in the week that she considered the affair to be "a heavy burden" for believers in Germany. Since the embattled bishop became a regular fixture on the front page, the dioceses of Cologne, Munich, Essen, Hamburg and Speyer this week decided to make their finances public.

msh/lw (AFP, dpa, epd)