Monday, October 28, 2013

Bishop of Bling

THE faithful of Limburg, a diocese in Hesse, have been protesting in front of their Romanesque cathedral, a few even affixing “95 theses” to its door to make their views of their bishop unmistakable. But the prelate, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, had already gone to Rome, where he awaits a meeting with Pope Francis that will determine his future. The extent of his excesses is such that it is hard to say which detail most rankles Germans, and not only Catholic ones.

For some it is the petty lying. Last year the bishop flew first class to India to look at some do-goody projects. But when Der Spiegel, a news magazine, confronted him, he insisted that he had flown business class, even signing affidavits. On October 10th prosecutors in Hamburg indicted him for perjury.

For others it is the pomp and luxury. In 2010, two years after he became Germany’s youngest bishop at the age of 48, Bishop Franz-Peter began building a new residence next to the cathedral. The cost was estimated at €5.5m ($7.43m). Then his requests piled up. His bathtub cost €15,000. Instead of resting an advent wreath on an iron frame in his chapel, he wanted it suspended from the ceiling, requiring the roof to be cut open, at a cost of €100,000 instead of €10,000. In total, the cost estimates now run to €31m.

Germans usually expect to read about such clerical ostentation in history books about the Reformation. Pope Francis, who has chosen simplicity and modesty as his message, makes the incongruity even starker. In an increasingly secular Germany this latest scandal is disastrous for the churches.


The Economist

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