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Vatican suspends Germany's 'bling bishop' over ostentatious lifestyle

The bishop flew to Rome last week with low-cost airline Ryanair to explain himself to Pope Francis after the cost of his extravagant new residence complex blew out to at least €31 million

The Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
The Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
Image: AP Photo/Michael Probst/PA Images

THE VATICAN HAS suspended a scandal-tainted German Catholic cleric dubbed the “bling bishop” for his luxury lifestyle, despite multiple calls for the prelate to be dismissed.

“The Holy See deems it appropriate to authorise a period of leave from the diocese for Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“The Holy Father has been continuously and objectively informed of the situation,” it said. “A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties.”

It did not specify how long the bishop would have to stay away but added that this would depend on an analysis of the finances of his Limburg diocese and the responsibilities for its high costs.

The bishop flew to Rome last week with low-cost airline Ryanair to explain himself to Francis — following accusations he took a business-class ticket on a trip to India and squandered money.

His private quarters in a new diocesan building are reported to have cost some €2.9 million and included a 63-square-metre dining room and a €15,000 bathtub — using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.

False statements

The reports have caused a scandal in Germany and sparked calls for greater transparency in Catholic Church finances — a reform aim of the new pope who has called for a “poor Church for the poor”.

The 53-year-old bishop is under fire over the ostentatious building project in the ancient town of Limburg, which includes a museum, conference halls, a chapel and private apartments.

The project was approved by his predecessor and was initially valued at €5.5 million but the final bill ballooned to €31 million, including a €783,000 garden.

Tebartz-van Elst is also accused of giving false statements in court about an expensive flight he took to India to visit poor communities.

Prosecutors say the bishop gave false statements under oath in a Hamburg court battle against news weekly Der Spiegel when he denied having told the magazine’s journalist that he flew business class.

Anger that taxes paid to the Church by ordinary Germans are apparently being squandered has led to demonstrations outside his residence.

© AFP, 2013

Read: ‘Bling bishop’ could lose German church more of its flock

Read: Germany’s Catholics told to pay church tax or no sacraments

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