The “Bling Bishop,” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst who was the top Catholic cleric in Limburg, Germany, is a bishop no more. Bling just isn’t part of the agenda put forth by Pope Francis, who wants to make the church less about money and more about humility, in an effort to connect with an increasingly disaffected Catholic population.
The Pope named Manfred Grothe, an auxiliary bishop in Paderborn, Germany, as the new Limburg bishop.
The Bling Bishop earned his moniker when it was discovered last year that he had blown tens of millions in church funds renovating his house.
The cost for the renonations was estimated at about $7.5 million, but the 54-year-old Tebartz-van Elst threw $43 million at the project, which included such extravagances as a $21,000 bathtub.
The German news media reported on the free-spending ways of the Bling Bishop last October, throwing the Limburg congregation — and most of Catholic Germany — into an uproar. While such out-of-control expenditures are likely to have sparked a controversy anywhere, in Germany where 500 years ago Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation largely as a rebellion against the vast accumulation of wealth by the church, the allegations against the so-called Bishop of Bling struck a particularly sensitive nerve.
Also, it didn’t help that the church in Germany is partly financed by taxes, which German taxpayers did not appreciate being spent on a mansion full of bling.
Tebartz-van Elst turned in his resignation last October in response to his outraged congregation, but Pope Francis at the time merely suspended him, saying he wanted time to fully investigate the charges.
The bishop said that the total $43 million bill actually covered 10 separate projects and that the fact that the buildings in his complex were historically protected drove costs up.
But clearly the Pope didn’t buy the Bling Bishop’s explanation, because on Wednesday he finally accepted Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation.
“Today’s decision will and must serve as a signal for the whole church,” said the Catholic lay organization We Are Church in a statement. “The monarchical view of a bishop’s office that is not founded on Christian beliefs is out of date.”
We Are Church is a powerful body among German Catholics.
The Vatican said that the Bling Bishop could no longer effectively run his ministry, but that Tebartz-van Elst would get a new assignment within the church “at the opportune time.”