Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the so-called “Bishop of Bling,” resigned as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg in Germany, in the wake of criticism from Pope Francis and others after a scandal involving expenses for the renovation of the bishop’s private residence.
The Church allocated €5.5 million ($7.6 million USD) for the renovation of the bishop’s home or Diözesanzentrum, at a time when the diocese was committed to austerity measures, cutting salaries and programs. But Tebartz-van Elst spent at least €31 million ($43 million USD) in Church funds, including a $20,000 bathtub, $500,000 in built-in closets, and a $35,000 conference table for the bishop’s private apartments. Recently-uncovered documents suggest that the final cost of the residence may have been much higher.
Tebartz-van Elst is known for his liberal political views, although he met with criticism in 2008 after after defrocking a dean for blessing a homosexual couple. He initially defended the cost overuns, claiming that the historically-protected buildings are more expensive to renovate. That does not, however, explain the $20,000 bathtub. The bishop has lied on several occasions to the press, including one incident when Tebartz-van Elst claimed to have flown business class to India, when Der Spiegel was able to prove he flew first class. Tebartz-van Elst was convicted of perjury as a result of that lie, and paid a fine of €20,000 ($27,000 USD) — with Church money.
This February, German media uncovered that Tebartz-van Elst funneled money intended for needy families into his construction projects.
Pope Francis, who himself lives in a simple guest house on the Vatican grounds rather than in the Apostolic Palace, has urged bishops to avoid living “like princes,” and advocates a “poor church for the poor.”
The Vatican intends to move Tebartz-van Elst to another position within the Church.
The controversy in Germany highlights the troubles of John J. Myers, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. Apart from being criticized for allowing a chaplain convicted of sexual abuse of minors to continue working with children, Myers is under attack for spending $500,000 to build an addition to his retirement residence, which the New York Times characterized as a “palace.” The addition includes a 14×7′ whirlpool bath. This just after the archdiocese closed an elementary school because they could longer afford to operate it.