The threat of an expedited court reprimand, a construction cost scandal, loss of confidence: If the bishop of Limburg does not resign of his own accord, the pope must take decisive action, says Felix Steiner.
"Those to whom God gives an office, he also gives sense" - it's an old saying in German among the faithful. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is apparently an exception to that sentiment. The bishop of Limburg has become a burden on the Catholic Church. But thus far, he seems unwilling to vacate an office that he has so massively damaged.
It's possible that the criticism directed at him for months now initially had elements of being a campaign against him. A campaign by those who lost offices or did not get the ones they desired. This is normal - especially when a newcomer's approach differs so substantially from that of his predecessor. That's certainly true when it comes to Tebartz-van Elst, now decried as "the prince-bishop," and his retired predecessor, the Franciscan Bishop Kamphaus of Limburg.
Tebartz has only himself to blame for the problems now making it impossible for him to exercise his office. No one forced him to make a declaration under oath about his trip to India that video evidence then proved to be a clear lie. And why is a bishop's official administration office unable to provide a transparent accounting of its budget on a construction project within four weeks?
31 million euros ($42 million) is a lot of money and does not cohere with the ideal of a poor church that the new Pope Francis has so vehemently preached about. But other bishops in Germany have built similarly expensive residences in the past without causing a comparable outcry. As any politician knows, it's often not the problem itself that prevents you from staying in office, but, instead, how you deal with it.
In any case, the question is: Was the bishop really the only one who knew about the construction costs for the Limburg project? That's questionable. Ideally, some of those responsible for managing the church's accounts who now describe Tebartz as "ill" in newspaper interviews would have shown the courage to ask critical questions during committee meetings in recent years.
The case in Limburg reveals the weakness of the centralized structure of the Catholic Church. Although Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is damaging the reputation of the entire Catholic Church in Germany, the problem cannot be solved in this country alone.
Only the pope can relieve a bishop of duty. Now, Germans, known for their frequent criticism of the papacy and of Vatican decisions, are looking eagerly to Francis. "Roma locuta, causa finita - Rome has spoken, the matter is closed" - is an old principle of the Catholic Church. Let's hope that word comes soon.