German bishop accused of luxurious lifestyle resigns

Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz van Elst on June 1,2012 Credit Christliches Medienmagazin pro via Flickr (CC BY 20)

In a March 26 statement the Holy See announced its acceptance of the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebarts-van Elst, noting that the situation in his diocese does not allow the full exercise of his ministry.


“Considering that in the diocese of Limburg a situation has arisen that prevents the fruitful exercise of the ministry of S.E. Mons. Franz-Peter Tebarts-van Elst,” the statement read, “the Holy See has accepted the resignation of the Bishop presented on Oct. 20, 2013.”

In comments made during a March 26 press conference in Berlin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx expressed that "Now it is important that the diocese of Limburg is able to go down a good path with a common future."

"I will contribute to this process as much as I can and am entitled to. This requires willingness to reconcile, new trust and the power of prayer. Healing and a new start will be possible in this way."

Cardinal Marx is chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, and serves as the archbishop of Munich and Freising, in Germany.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebarts-van Elst has until recently overseen the diocese of Limburg, Germany, and has been on suspension while a Vatican commission investigated accusations of the German press that the Bishop was leading a luxurious lifestyle, with some dubbing him the “bishop of bling.”

In the absence of a leader, the Holy See has appointed S.E. Mons. Manfred Grothe as the diocese’s Apostolic Administrator.

The Holy See affirmed in their statement that the decision to accept Bishop Tebarts-van Elst’s resignation came after the Congregation of Bishops “studied attentively the report of the Commission…and of the Cathedral Chapter.”

Initially launched last fall following an Oct. 21 meeting between the bishop and Pope Francis, the Vatican commission has been investigating the accusations against Bishop Tebarts-van Elst while he has been on leave.

Among claims made by media reports in Germany, some have accused the bishop of approving of spending more than $42 million on renovating his residence, which was ten times the original estimate.

In addition, German news magazine Der Spiegel wrote in June 2013 that the design of the structure resembled “a monstrous luxury complex” and was built “according to the wishes of Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst.”

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has also come under criticism for flying first-class from India after visiting the poor there. A Hamburg prosecutor has charged that the bishop submitted false affidavits on the matter during a legal dispute between the bishop and the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Amid the controversy, the bishop’s defenders have said that the home on his residence property was in fact ordered to be built by his predecessor, and that the bishop himself has stated that the cost overrun on the ten-building property includes spending on work needed for the sake of historic preservation.

Others have risen to his defense stating that on his way back from India, the diocese reportedly had only paid for a business class seat for the bishop’s flight home, but that he was upgraded to first class because of flight miles accumulated by his vicar general.

It is believed by some that the relatively young bishop, 53, is cleaning house in his diocese after its former leader, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, caused controversies with Rome by allowing church centers to provide counseling to women seeking an abortion, giving them special tickets protecting them from German law, under which abortion is technically illegal.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was ordained a priest for the Muenster diocese in 1985, and at the age of 44 was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese in 2003. He was installed as Bishop of Limburg in Jan., 2008.

According to the Holy See’s statement, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst “will recieve another assignment at the proper time.”

Until then, Pope Francis asked “the priests and faithful of the diocese of Limburg to willingly accept the decisions of the Holy See with docility and a desire to rediscover a spirit of charity and reconciliation.”


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