VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday fired a senior German prelate, known as the “bling bishop,” following his fall into disrepute for using church funds to build an expensive home for himself.
Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst had already been suspended by the pontiff in October, after the alleged $43 million bill for renovation work on his residence triggered a major scandal.
In a statement, the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops said Pope Francis had accepted Tebartz-van Elst’s resignation after concluding that “a situation that prevents a fruitful exercise of the ministry” had arisen.
Manfred Grothe, the Auxiliary Bishop of the nearby town of Paderborn, was appointed temporary administrator of the Limburg diocese. Grothe chaired the panel of enquiry set up by the German Bishops’ Conference into Tebartz-van Elst’s overspending.
According to reports, the renovation work that the fired bishop had commissioned in Limburg, a town in the West German state of Hesse, included the fitting of a $20,000 bathtub.
With his ejection, Francis is seen as making a stand against behavior that clashes with his vision of “a poor church, for the poor.”
The Vatican urged Limburg Catholics to accept the papal decision “with docility,” and invited them “to commit themselves to restoring a climate of love and reconciliation” in the diocese.
The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, welcomed Francis’ move, and said there would be more financial transparency in the future for the German Catholic Church.
“It is good that the pope has now brought about a decision that ends a period of uncertainty for the diocese of Limburg and makes a new start and a new beginning possible,” Marx said.
Tebartz-van Elst, 54, had also come under fire for lying under oath. He acknowledged to a reporter that he had flown first class to visit slum dwellers in India, and he subsequently denied in an affidavit that he had made such an admission.
After Hamburg prosecutors agreed to a settlement payment of $27,400, the case was put on hold in November and ultimately terminated in late December. German prosecutors have since closed their court case.