Germany's 'bling bishop' sacked by Vatican

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 1:09am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 1:09am

Pope Francis yesterday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his €31 million (HK$332 million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Franz-Peter Terbartz-van Elst, nicknamed the "bling bishop" by the media, had been indefinitely relieved of his clerical duties by the pope last year after details emerged of his high-roller lifestyle.

At the centre of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop's residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered on October 20.

The Vatican said Monsignor Manfred Grothe would take over but that Tebartz-van Elst would get a new job "at the opportune time".

It added that the pope hoped that the faithful of Limburg would accept the decision with "docility and willingness to rediscover a climate of charity and reconciliation".

The pope has called on his priests and bishops to be models of sobriety in a church that "is poor and is for the poor".

Last year, the pope showed his irritation over the affair by keeping the bishop waiting for eight days in Rome before receiving him in the Vatican.

Lay Catholic groups welcomed the move, calling it a chance for a new start in the diocese.

"It is very important for the Church in all of Germany to draw the necessary conclusions ... This applies especially to transparency in Church finances," said Alois Glueck of the Central Committee of German Catholics.