In October, Pope Francis had temporarily expelled ‘bling bishop’ Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg pending a church inquiry.
At the centre of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and that there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection. But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous.
The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax brings in billions to the German church every year.
The Vatican said that the inquiry into the renovation found Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry and that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation, which was offered on October 20 originally.
Monsignor Manfred Grothe, an auxiliary bishop in Paderborn, will take over from Tebartz-van Els, the Vatican said, citing a statement from the Limburg diocese.
It said Tebartz-van Elst would get a new job “at the opportune time”.
It added that the pope hoped that the faithful of Limburg would accept the decision with “docility and willingness to rediscover a climate of charity and reconciliation”.
While the then-head of the German bishops’ conference — Archbishop Robert Zollitsch — had been particularly blunt in his criticism of the bishop, Tebartz-van Elst had his defenders in Rome, which could explain the Vatican’s decision to give him a second chance with a new job.
Francis has called on his priests and bishops to be models of sobriety in a church that “is poor and is for the poor”.
In Berlin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, told reporters he would do whatever he could to help the Limburg dioceses move on.
“For that we will need reconciliation, new trust and the power of prayer.”