Calls for his dismissal grew in recent weeks. Decision on his fate awaits inquiry into $42M bill to revamp his home.
BERLIN – A German bishop under fire for lavish spending on his personal residence at a time when Pope Francis is sending a message of modesty has been suspended from his duties, pending the outcome of an investigation, the Vatican said Wednesday.
Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, left his diocese in Limburg for Rome on a low-budget carrier last week, as anger mounted in Germany over the $42 million bill for revamping his residence. The bishop also faces charges that he made false statements twice under oath during a legal case against a magazine.
It was not immediately clear whether the bishop would remain at the Vatican while awaiting the final decision.
The spending affair has outraged Roman Catholics and others in Germany, the home of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
A commission created by Germany’s Bishops Conference is investigating the matter, amid conflicting reports over the chain of responsibility for approving the expense and about how much of the blame rests with the bishop.
“Pending the outcome of this investigation and the expected assurances connected with it, the Holy See views it as advisable to grant Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst a time outside of the diocese,” the Vatican said in a statement released Wednesday.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who was ordained in 1985, studied in France and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in the late 1980s. He was Germany’s youngest bishop when he was installed by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2008.
The bishop was confronted with dissent from within his congregation in 2012, when several thousand members signed a petition in protest of his leadership style. As details over the spending scandal mounted in recent weeks, calls for the bishops’ removal spread.
Church experts viewed Wednesday’s decision as a clear signal that the bishop would no longer continue his service.
“Had he directly forced the bishop to step down or removed him from office, that would have been swiftly condemned,” Thomas Schaller, a theologian at the University of Münster, told the German news agency DPA.