Suspended bishop is "just the tip of the iceberg," says reformer
Suspension puts spotlight on Germany's extremely wealthy Church
Picture: National Catholic Reporter
The $20,000 bathtub and $482,000 walk-in closets ordered by "Bishop Bling-Bling" -- the moniker of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the now-suspended bishop of Limburg -- have scandalized the German public.
But Tebartz-van Elst, 52, is only the latest German clergyman to run into trouble since Pope Francis took the helm of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis temporarily suspended the bishop Wednesday while a church commission investigates the expenditures on the $42 million residence complex.
As the new pontiff tries to reform the way the church does business, German dioceses, which reportedly include the world's wealthiest in Cologne, are chafing under the new direction as membership numbers continue to dwindle.
"Tebartz-van Elst is just the tip of the iceberg," said Christian Weisner, spokesman for the German branch of We Are Church, an organization advocating Catholic church reform. "There is a real clash of cultures between Germany's current cardinals and bishops -- nominated under John Paul II or Benedict XVI -- and Pope Francis."
Since becoming pope, Francis has repeatedly urged the church to strip itself of all "vanity, arrogance and pride" and humbly serve the poorest in society. Under Francis, priests living in luxury are no longer merely unseemly, but a scandal.
Still, even as Francis drives around Vatican City in a 30-year-old white Renault clunker gifted by an Italian priest, the head of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, balked at the idea of giving up his company car, a BMW 740d.
"To me that car is not a status symbol; it is the office I use when I am traveling," Zollitsch said at a press event in early October, when asked whether he would trade it down.
In Germany, most of the church's top officials drive high-powered Mercedes, BMWs or Audis...
...Carsten Frerk, who specializes on church finances in Germany, said German bishops' reluctance to follow Francis' new course is no surprise.
"The German Catholic Church is one of the country's wealthiest and largest organizations and its top officials expect a certain lifestyle," said Frerk, who has published two books on the German churches' wealth and what he describes as their opaque financing. "But they are wary of the extent of their wealth becoming broadly known because it might lead to fewer donations."
Source: National Catholic Reporter
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