Saturday, October 12, 2013

German Catholics take 'luxury bishop' scandal to pope

BERLIN (Reuters) - 
The head of Germany's Roman Catholic Church said on Thursday he would discuss with Pope Francis a scandal over a bishop who has been criticized for splashing out on a luxury residence and accused of lying under oath about a first-class flight.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops' Conference, said he took the situation in the Diocese of Limburg very seriously. His decision to take the matter to the pope may raise pressure on the bishop of Limburg to stand down.
Francis' response to the case is being closely watched, because it may show how far he will go to promote frugality and simplicity in a church plagued for decades by sexual abuse scandals and questions about opaque financial transactions at the Vatican bank.
State prosecutors said they wanted Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, bishop of Limburg which is near Frankfurt, fined for making false affidavits about a first-class flight to India.
"I am sure that the Bishop is dealing with this thoroughly and with the necessary self-criticism. Next week, I will speak to the Holy Father in Rome about it," said Zollitsch.
Prosecutors have been investigating whether the bishop lied under oath when he denied a report in Der Spiegel news magazine that he flew first-class to India to visit poverty projects.
Tebartz-van Elst said he flew business class but Der Spiegel has made public a mobile phone video recording of a conversation which triggered action by prosecutors in Hamburg, where the weekly is based.
Revelations this week that the bishop let costs for his new residence run to 31 million euros, over six times the original estimate, triggered calls for his resignation.
Newspapers have splashed pictures of the 53-year-old "luxury bishop" on their front pages and the Vatican sent an envoy last month to investigate protests in the diocese, marking the Pope's determination that bishops should be closer to congregations.
Zollitsch, who is trying to improve the image of the German Church after it was hit by a sex scandal about three years ago, said the move by the prosecutors was of great concern. He has set up a commission to audit the bishop's finances.
After the Vatican monitor's visit last month, Tebartz-van Elst apologized for "any carelessness or misjudgment".
But he defended himself in the German press on Thursday.
"The number is shocking, I understand that. But behind it there are 10 individual construction projects," he told Bild newspaper. "We have built a diocese centre in a sustainable way so that it will be available to future generations."
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Mike Collett-White)


  1. ആഡംബരവും സുഖലോലുപത്വവും അക്രമമാണ് എന്ന എന്റെ ലേഖനം ഈ വാർത്തയുമായി ബന്ധപ്പെടുത്തി വായിക്കണമെന്ന് താത്‌പര്യപ്പെടുന്നു.

  2. Catholics incensed as German bishop of Limburg builds palace fit for a pope
    Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in a vintage BMW. A diocesan assembly member said she did not see a future for him in the church. Photograph: Sascha Ditscher
    According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus advised his followers to "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven", but an influential German bishop has been accused of storing up treasures in his earthly residence instead. (to be continued

  3. (continue)
    Senior figures within the Roman Catholic church have called for the resignation of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the bishop of Limburg, after it emerged that the cost of a building project on his property in the town has ballooned to 10 times the original estimate.

    The new building, described by some newspapers as "palatial", is expected to cost €31m (£26m) and features a standalone bath worth €15,000.

    To add to Tebartz-van Elst's woes, he is now facing legal procedures for allegedly lying under oath during a legal row with a news magazine.

    In 2012, Der Spiegel published an article claiming the clergyman had taken a first-class flight to India, en route to visiting poor children in the slums of Bangalore. Tebartz-van Elst had issued two affidavits denying the claims made by the magazine. On Thursday, Hamburg prosecutors asked a court to fine the bishop for providing false testimony.

    The chairman of the German episcopal conference, Robert Zollitsch, announced he would discuss the high cost of the building project with Pope Francis next week.

    "I am as surprised by these figures as you," he said at a press conference. "I am mystified by these figures and will say so to the holy father."

    The building project was set in motion in 2004, with the church providing about €3m to renovate the bishop's residence and restore parts of the old city wall. Stretching underground, the new complex is designed in a modernist style and will contain a chapel, a nuns' home and meeting rooms as well as several private rooms for the bishop.

    Tebartz-van Elst has defended the cost, saying it was spread across "10 separate building projects" and said the price had been pushed up by a trust set up to maintain the listed building – a claim the trust denies. He said: "Those who know me know I don't have a pompous lifestyle."

    But some of the details of the plans contradict Tebartz-van Elst's claims. According to one article, the bishop repeatedly changed his mind over the architecture of the building.

    After the original plan had included a standing advent wreath, Tebartz-van Elst had later demanding a wreath hanging from the ceiling, which involved cutting a hole through the already finished chapel roof – pushing up the price from €10,000 to about €100,000.

    Criticism from within the church has been severe. One member of the Bischöfliche Stuhl foundation that funded the project told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Anyone who thinks normally wouldn't sign off the kind of costs we are dealing with here."

    Ingeborg Schallai, president of the diocese assembly, said she did not see a future for him in the Catholic church.

    Known for his authoritarian style, Tebartz-van Elst was previously regarded as a loyal supporter of Pope Benedict. In 2008, he ordered the dismissal of a dean who had blessed same-sex couples. In 2010, he criticised Christian Wulff, then president of Germany, for saying: "Islam also belongs to Germany."

    The Catholic church has assured taxpayers that the project is largely financed by a church fund, and only €2.5m of church taxes were spent on the project.

    Tebartz-van Elst was due to head off for a week-long pilgrimage to Israel on Friday, but his office said the trip had been cancelled.

    The Limburg revelations come on the heels of a series of miscalculations around major building projects in Germany. Work on a new philharmonic hall at Hamburg's harbour was started in 2005 with an estimated price of €77m – by the time it is finished in 2016, the project will most likely have cost 10 times the amount. The cost of Berlin's new airport was estimated at about €1.7bn in 2004 – in 2012, the figure was revised up to €4.3bn.