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October 21, 2013 6:30 pm
A senior German cleric dubbed the “bishop of bling” in the media has met Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the uproar surrounding reports that he spent €31m on a palatial new residence and community centre, including €15,000 on his own bathtub.
Pope Francis, who has called for the Roman Catholic Church to be “poor and for the poor”, intervened in response to appeals by German congregations concerned at alleged mishandling of funds by Church institutions.
Only the Pope has the authority to remove a bishop, who, according to church law, cannot normally resign or be dismissed.
Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, appointed Bishop of Limburg by Pope Benedict in 2008, had a 20-minute conversation with Pope Francis on Monday. A statement by the Limburg diocese said it was “an encouraging encounter” but gave no details, citing confidentiality.
“Money destroys. It is useful to carry out many good things, works to support humanity, but when your heart is attached to it, it destroys you,” the pontiff said earlier on Monday at his morning mass in Santa Marta, a Vatican residence he chose instead of the grander quarters used by his predecessors.
The 53-year-old bishop, Germany’s youngest at the time of his appointment, was reported to have flown to Rome last week on a budget airline.
The furore in Germany over the bishop’s reported extravagance is being seen in the Vatican as a test of the Argentine pontiff’s resolve to bring more transparency and frugality to the Church.
“I trust that all the involved parties are interested in a rapid and valid solution . . . to find a way out of this difficult situation,” Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German bishops’ conference, said last week as Church authorities launched an official audit into the bishop’s spending.
The controversy has enraged the Catholic community in a country where a church tax and state direct funding bring billions of euros a year to the German Church – the country’s second largest employer after the state.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not commented on the costs of the works pending the results from a “team of neutral, external experts from outside the diocese”, said his spokesman Martin Wind, who confirmed that the cleric had not offered his resignation over the controversy.
When the renovation project began in 2010, the total cost was put at €5.5m, but local media reports say the figure could go as high as €40m. The soaring costs are reported to include a €15,000 bath in the residence, almost €400,000 for built-in cupboards and carpentry and some €500,000 for works of art.
The bishop has said the works involved 10 separate building projects. “People who know me know that I don’t need a pompous lifestyle,” he told Bild, the mass circulation daily.
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