- (Photo: http://www.bistumlimburg.de)
Pope Francis has suspended German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, nicknamed "the luxury bishop" and the "bishop of bling" by German newspapers, following uproar over revelations that he spent over $42 million on a luxury residence.
"A situation has been created in which Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst currently cannot exercise his episcopal ministry," the Vatican press office said in a statement on Wednesday.
Pope Francis, who has led as an example of modesty and has called on church leaders to live humbly, has apparently been "continually, broadly and objectively informed" about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg, and has authorized the suspension with immediate effect.
Tebartz-van Elst has spent over $42 million on a lavish remodeling and building project in Limburg, including a free-standing bath, conference table and private chapel worth millions. While he has admitted to "carelessness or misjudgment on my part," he has denied that he has engaged in any wrong-doing, and tried to explain that the money was spent on 10 different projects and that additional costs built up due to regulations on buildings.
The Bishop's actions caused an uproar in Germany with top politicians like Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking out about the harm this does to the faithful's confidence in the Catholic Church in Germany, while people have also joined in protests outside the new residence.
The Central Committee of German Catholics, the country's main lay Catholic group, has praised the Vatican's decision, arguing that it creates the space needed to the clear up the situation in Limburg.
"Pope Francis' decision offers the chance of a first step toward a new beginning in the Limburg diocese, because the situation can become an increasing burden for the faithful there and in all of Germany over recent weeks," the group's head, Alois Glueck, said.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of Germany's bishops conference, has said that he expects the church to deal appropriately with the accused bishop, and met last week in Rome with Pope Francis. Tebartz-van Elst also traveled to the Vatican in the same week to address the controversy, though it is not clear if he met directly with the Roman Catholic leader.
"When Bishop Tebartz-van Elst flew into Rome last week it was reportedly on a Ryanair flight. Budget travel is perhaps not quite the style of the 'bishop of bling,' but it was more appropriate given his mission," BBC News' Alan Johnston reported from Rome.
"He was here to explain to the Pope his $42m palace renovation job. And waiting for that meeting cannot have been comfortable. Would the Pope mention the bishop's $20,000 bathtub? Or the $34,000 conference table?"
During morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis highlighted the need to use money to help those in need, and warned about the danger of greed destroying relationships.
"This is a day-to-day problem. How many families have we seen destroyed by the problem of money? Brother against brother, father against son. This is the first result that this attitude of being attached to money does: it destroys! When a person is attached to money, he destroys himself, he destroys the family," Francis said.
"Money serves to bring about many good things, so many works for human development, but when your heart is attached in this way, it destroys you."
The length of Tebartz-van Elst's suspension and his future in the church has not yet been determined, though the Vatican confirmed that he will remain outside the diocese while the investigation into the money spent for the building project continues.