For the Joseph Ratzinger legacy file, here’s some fun news out of Berlin: a Roman Catholic prelate appointed by Pope Benedict is on the hot seat after reports that he approved renovations for his residence amounting to €31 million (US $42 million), and that a state prosecutor in Hamburg has charged him with lying in a legal case.
Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, evidently has a very high opinion of his worth as a shepherd of the Lord. According to the New York Times, the bishop of Limburg’s new apartment alone, with its “palatial” living room, cost €2.9 million. An itemized list of expenses includes €350,000 for carpentry and cupboards, €450,000 for art, €100,000 for windows for a private chapel, €25,000 for a conference table, and €15,000 for a new bathtub. A spokesman for the body administering church property in Limburg says that Tebartz-van Elst (oh, let’s call him “Tebbie” for short) lied last summer when confronted about the cost of the renovations, which he put at €10 million.
After spending €350,000 on walk-in wardrobes, it’s no wonder Tebbie is being called “the Luxury Bishop of Limburg,” the “Swanky Bishop,” and the “Bling Bishop.”
Obviously, none of this is exactly in keeping with the austerity and humble ideals of Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis I. Nor was a news report, by the influential weekly Der Spiegel, that Tebbie flew first class on a flight to India last year for a visit with the poor. The big-spending bishop is suing for that story, but the action may backfire on him: a senior state prosecutor last week formally charged Tebbie with twice making false statements under oath during his legal action against Der Spiegel. As any good Catholic knows, breaking the eighth commandment is a no-no. Thus, not surprisingly, the calls for Tebbie’s resignation by outraged German Catholics are getting louder by the day.
Only a pope can decide to remove a bishop, and it so happens that Tebbie is in Rome this week for an audience with His Holiness.
My advice to Francis? Let him eat bread crumbs—in a Mumbai soup kitchen. For a year. Or maybe two.