Dalai Lama Praises Pope Francis for Suspending Germany's Controversial 'Bishop of Bling'

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has praised Pope Francis for his decision to suspend Germany's "Bishop of Bling" Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst last year, following revelations that the bishop spent over $42 million on a luxury residence.

"His Holiness, the Pope, I think is very, very realistic and quite strict. I really admired his dismissing one German bishop [who was living] his own private life in a very sort of expensive, luxurious [way]," the Dalai Lama said in an interview with TIME on Wednesday during a two-week tour of the U.S. west coast.

The spiritual leader was seemingly referring to Tebartz-van Elst from the Diocese of Limburg, who in October 2013 caused an uproar in Germany after it was revealed that he spent vast amounts of money on a building project that included a free-standing bath, conference table and private chapel worth millions.

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Top politicians such as Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out about the harm this does to the faithful's confidence in the institution, especially since Pope Francis has tried to model the Church as one of the poor and for the poor.

Responding to the controversy, the Vatican announced that the bishop "cannot exercise his episcopal ministry," effectively suspending him from service during an investigation into the misused finances.

In the wake of the incident, homeless organizations suggested that the lavish $42 million residency serve as a soup kitchen instead.

"The residence is like an inherited sin which the bishop has left in his wake," said a spokesman for the Caritas organization for the homeless at the time. "People who seek sanctuary with us could be given food in the residence."

In his interview with TIME, the Dalai Lama discussed a wide range of topics, including Tibet's struggle for sovereignty under the Chinese government, the changing climate patterns, and his views on medical marijuana and social media.

When asked whether the Catholic Church, which does not ordain female priests, can learn from Buddhism's view of women, the Tibetan leader said:

"Generally speaking, each one should follow their traditional way, but sometimes we have to judge according to a new reality. For example, female rights are very important."

In February 2013, the Dalai Lama expressed his sadness when Pope Benedict XVI resigned and said that he would be praying for his health.

"Firstly (I am) little bit sad, I know him and he is a very intelligent one, but then naturally he is a religious practitioner, and in the meantime very intelligent. So his decision must be realistic, for the greater benefit to concern the people," the spiritual leader said.

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