Pope Francis has taken the unusual step of expelling a bishop for overspending.
Bishop of Limburg, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – already dubbed by the media “the Bishop of Bling – is alleged to have spent more than 31 million euros ($42 m) on renovating his official residence.
The Vatican announced that it would be appropriate or him to take a “period of leave from the diocese.” It also stated that “a situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties.” This decision comes two days after the Pope met with the bishop to discuss the matter
The Vatican did not say where Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, 53, would go or what he would do, while an inquiry was held.
Alois Glueck, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, welcomed the Pope’s decision to expel the bishop. He said: “Pope Francis’s decision offers the chance of a first step toward a new beginning in the Limburg diocese, because the situation has become an increasing burden for the faithful there, and in all of Germany, over recent weeks.”
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s spending habits have become infamous in Germany, where many people pay Church tax to the state. Pressure arose for the bishop to resign after he was accused of lying under oath about his spending.
Among other things, he insisted on flying First Class to India to visit the poor!
But the main criticism has been reserved the sums he spent on refurbishing his official residence. German media say that the residence was fitted with a bath that cost 15,000 euros ($21,000), a conference table for 25,000 euros ($34,500), and a private chapel that cost 2.9 million euros ($4 million)
It is ironic that this should have occurred in Germany of all places, where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to excessive spending and abuses within the Church.
Pope Francis has indicated previously that he wished to change the way the Catholic Church is perceived, and has announced his intention to clean up the Vatican’s finances, by appointing a commission to advise him on reforms.
His action in expelling this bishop is a first step to show to his followers, and the world, that he is serious in his intentions.