VATICAN CITY — In a March 26 statement, the Holy See announced its acceptance of the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebarts-van Elst, noting that the situation in his diocese does not allow the full exercise of his ministry.
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebarts-van Elst has until recently overseen the Diocese of Limburg, Germany, and has been on suspension while a Vatican commission investigated accusations of the German press that the bishop was leading a luxurious lifestyle, with some dubbing him the “bishop of bling.”
The Holy See has appointed Bishop Manfred Grothe, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Paderborn, as the diocese’s apostolic administrator.
A Vatican commission, which was initially launched last fall, following an Oct. 21 meeting between Bishop Tebarts-van Elst and Pope Francis, has been investigating the accusations against the bishop while he has been on leave.
The Holy See statement said that the decision to accept Bishop Tebarts-van Elst’s resignation came after the Congregation of Bishops “has carefully studied the report of the commission instituted by the bishop and by the cathedral chapter to undertake further investigations in relation to the responsibility for the construction of the ‘St. Nikolaus’ diocesan center.”
Among claims made by media reports in Germany, some have accused the bishop of approving of spending more than $42 million on renovating his residence, which was 10 times the original estimate.
In addition, German news magazine Der Spiegel wrote in June 2013 that the design of the structure resembled “a monstrous luxury complex” and was built “according to the wishes of Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst.”
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has also come under criticism for flying first-class from India after visiting the poor there. A Hamburg prosecutor has charged that the bishop submitted false affidavits on the matter during a legal dispute between the bishop and the news magazine Der Spiegel.
Amid the controversy, the bishop’s defenders have said that the home on his residence property was in fact built on the instructions of his predecessor and that the bishop himself has stated that the cost overrun on the 10-building property includes spending on work needed for the sake of historic preservation.
Others have risen to his defense, stating that on his way back from India, the diocese reportedly had only paid for a business-class seat for the bishop’s flight home, but that he was upgraded to first-class because of flight miles accumulated by his vicar general.
It is believed by some that the relatively young bishop, 53, was targeted because of his efforts to rectify problems in his diocese that occurred after its former leader, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, caused controversies with Rome by allowing Church centers to provide counseling to women seeking an abortion, giving them special tickets protecting them from German law, under which abortion is technically illegal.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was ordained a priest for the Muenster Diocese in 1985, and at the age of 44, he was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese in 2003. He was installed as bishop of Limburg in January 2008.
According to the Holy See’s statement, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst “will receive another assignment at the proper time.”
Until then, it added, Pope Francis has asked “the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to willingly accept the decisions of the Holy See with docility and a desire to rediscover a spirit of charity and reconciliation.”