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Bishop spending scandal

October 13, 2013

Germany's Bishop of Limburg has flown to Rome to take up his controversial case at the Vatican. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is accused of lavish spending in the renovation of his residence.

Aerial photo of the renovated residence. Photo dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Bishop 'deluxe'

A spokesman for the diocese of Limburg, Martin Wind, told the German news agency dpa Sunday that Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has traveled to Rome to meet with church officials at the Vatican. However, he gave no further details. The Bishop flew by a low-cost airline.

Though Pope Francis has called for the Catholic church to be "poor and for the poor," Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has become known in the German press as "the luxury bishop of Limburg," or simply the "swanky bishop" over the renovation of his residence in the ancient town of Limburg, near the financial center of Frankfurt.

Last summer the bishop had estimated the renovation costs at 13.5 million euros ($18 million). This week they were reported to be 31 million euros.

Diocesan officials have confirmed the costs, which include 15,000 euros for a bath installed in the bishop's residence and 783,000 euros for the gardens. When the project began in 2010, the total costs were put at 5.5 million euros.

Tebartz-van Elst was quoted in the mass circulation Bild newspaper as saying: "I understand that people are taken aback by the figure. But there are 10 separate building projects involved. People who know me know that I don't need a pompous lifestyle."

In a press conference last Thursday, the head of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch admitted: "I am as surprised as you are" at the costs. "I am sure that the bishop is dealing with this thoroughly and with the necessary self-criticism. Next week, I will speak to the Holy Father in Rome about it,” Zollitsch said.

There have been calls for the bishop to resign. However, only the pope has the authority to remove a bishop, who cannot normally resign or be dismissed, according to Church law.

False affidavits

The residence costs are not the only issue surrounding Tebartz-van Elst. The state prosecutor in Hamburg issued an indictment on Thursday for issuing false affidavits to the court in a case the bishop had brought against the magazine Der Spiegel, over an article that alleged he had flown first-class on a church trip to India. If found guilty, the bishop could face a fine.

Tebartz-van Elst, 53, was appointed to the diocese by Pope Benedict in 2008 as a rising young conservative theologian. The bishop has cancelled a planned trip to Israel with a church choir, but made no other comments.

There are 24 million registered Catholics in Germany. The church spends 100 million euros a year on social work in developing countries.

jm/av (dpa, Reuters)