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Pope Francis sacks 'Bishop of Bling.'

Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany. The bishop was suspended in October, after it came to light that the new residential complex he was building for himself would cost a cool $43 million, including a $20,000 bathtub (cheaper than the $27,000 fine he had to pay for lying under oath), a $35,000 table, and $500,000 wardrobes. Nothing but the best for the man who flew first class to visit the poor of India.

To be sure, $43 million is a lot more than the $500,000 the outgoing Archbishop of Newark is spending to renovate his retirement home. (Take comfort, Newark Catholics, your new bishop is on this. Try to focus on the fact that for a long time Myers was willing to live in the actual city of Newark, which is, you know, Newark.) And it's still a lot more than the $2.2 million Archbishop of Atlanta is reportedly shelling out for his own residence, on top of another $2.2 million to renovate a rectory (all paid for with a $15 million bequest from the nephew of the author of Gone with the Wind). Newark and Atlanta Catholics may not be quite as offended by their archbishops' reno bills as are their co-religionists in Limburg, but it looks like the pope is really not kidding about wanting a church that is poor and for the poor.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope removed the bishop because of "a situation that prevents a fruitful exercise of the ministry of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst." In other words, he skunked his own authority by scandalizing the faithful through his misuse of funds.

Can you think of any other situations that might prevent the fruitful exercise of a bishop's ministry?

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Wow, a Church leader who wasted parishioners’ monies on an extravagant lifestyle, is held accountable.

When will those leaders ( a single Cardinal or Bishop) who allowed the destruction of the lives of our children be held accountable?


Grant - you ask: 

"Can you think of any other situations that might prevent the fruitful exercise of a bishop's ministry?"

Sexual abuse;  prime examples -

Finn (convicted)

George (violated US charter numerous times but he has submitted his resignation)

Braxton (wasted more than $2 mil fighting and delaying settlements that eventually the courts made  him do)

Mahony (but he is now retired)


Meyer (but he now has a Vatican appointed replacement)

www.bishopsaccountability has a list of bishops who resigned over abuse spanning 30 years.  It is interesting to note that almost without exception, bishops who acknowledged, admitted, or were convicted had their resignations accepted by Rome when they reached the age of 75 - but not before???

Wonder - could one criteria be that any diocese that has to file for bankruptcy, creates a situation in which that bishop is prevented from the fruitful exercise of his ministry.  Experienced this in the diocese of Dallas in the 1990s after the Rudy Kos trial.  Grahmann stayed and it created years of bad big donors would support him;  pastors had mixed feelings about the bishop; the chancery office was in turmoil; any future direction of the diocese was either put on hold or compromised.

Other suggested areas:

- bishops who are extreme and rigid cultural warriors e.g. Nienstedt who *wasted* millions on a campaign against same sex marriage; what about Cordileone? 

- bishops who refuse to follow the US Charter (Burkeswitcz is gone but what about Conley?)

- bishops who glamorize and make a public display of Summorum Pontificum and spend money and time doing TLM creating diocesan divisions

- bishops who spend more than 50% of their time outside of their dioceses (airport bishops per Francis)

Just some ruminations


Hebda's defense of Meier was a sad suggestion that no lessons have been learned there. Imagine congratulating the man for living in the cathedral rectory or, rather, zip code, as if that were some sort of gracious concession on his part. (He didn't mention the money spent to lavishly redecorate the rectory.) Thankfully the comments thread took him to task for it, each and every one. No nastiness but firm rejection of this narrative of poor, generous bishop Meier who is so maligned. Good to see such pushback.

“My own experience tells me that the lifestyle of a bishop has little to do with square footage. The demands on a bishop’s time are such that he is seldom home and rarely has time to develop attachments to creature comforts…All in all, episcopal ministry would be a poor choice for someone seeking a comfortable lifestyle.” (Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda, coadjutor archbishop of Newark)

Catholics in Newark, you deserve better.


I dont know which is worse the statement of Hebda, which you quoted or the cyncism of Wilton Gregory: 

Gregory believes the new $2.2 million mansion will allow him to “smell like the flock,” as he put it, and provide a space where he can host church goers.

Is Gregory mocking Pope Francis?


I guess I should cross off the name of Archbishop Wilton Gregory from my bracket of potential Archbishops of Chicago.

I agree with Grant and Rita about the depressing inadequacy of Bishop Hebda's defense of Myers. What I like most about it is that Hebda doesn't even attempt to defend Myers against the actual complaints. A defense would require him to argue that Myers's retirement plans are not actually unreasonably expensive, or that it's a reasonable use of diocesan funds. Instead he basically says, "Think of all the money he didn't spend on himself."

It reminds me of the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band is in trouble with their record company over the cover of their album Smell the Glove -- which is hilariously sexist and crude -- and their manager protests weakly, "You should have seen the cover they wanted to do!"

I've admired Archbishop Gregory for many years and would like to think that this isn't a money/luxury grab on his part.  Buckhead is a pretty tony area of Atlanta; this site suggests that the average home prices on some streets exceeds $1.3 million.  That's where the cathedral is.  The newspaper article states that the price tag on one of the two properties includes purchasing the land.  Does a home in that area need $1 million+ in renovations?  Was a prior house razed?  Beats me.  Transparency would be helpful: on what was the money spent?  Hopefully, not on solid gold bathtubs.  Did the gift from Margaret Mitchell's nephew specify that he wanted to buy Archbishop Gregory a retirement home?  I dunno, but that would also be nice to know.  Is Gregory just going to live there with a small staff, or will the facility be used for other purposes: fundraising, retreats, other public and spiritual functions?  We see Gregory stating it will allow him to smell the sheep, but no specifics are given as to what that means.

I agree it doesn't look good.


It is now quite clear that Pope Francis priorities are to protect the church's money rather than protect the church's vulnerable children.
He quickly fires a bishop who lavishly spends church money, yet he does not even take the very least step of protecting kids by firing US Bishop Finn who is a convicted criminal for covering up child sex crimes in the KC-St Joe diocese. This does not makes sense to the thousands of victims who suffer from being sexually abused by clergy. Until bishops and cardinals are fired for enabling and empowering kids to be sexually abused, there is no hope of change coming from the Vatican.

Tragically the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called "zero tolerance" policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don't have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their power and the institution rather than protecting children.
Outside law enforcement desperately needs to get involved to stop these crimes against humanity.

Judy Jones,
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Looking forward to seeing the spotlight shining ever more brightly on the archbishop of Newark, Earlville, Illinois' gift to the universal church. Smile, John, we're looking at you, and so is Francis.

Appoint him as Coadjutor in Newark, NJ and heir to the bishop's additional new "cottage." Hope it would be larfge enough for both of them.


Your work and indignation is respected and it is true that this issue you raise and the persons whom you assist are of far greater value. Yet I hope within six months- one year there will be significant STRUCTURAL change to deal with the hierarchy in ways that are moer institutionalized than simply relieiving a "bling bishop." 

I have to say that the biggest difference for hierarchs in Germany and those in say the US is that in Germany the church is suppport from tax revenues that the state collects on behalf of the various religious denominations.

In other words, the people of Germany have ultimate control over the purse strings of the hierarchs through their elected representatives in the German government - them making the hierarchs eventually accountable to the people.

The reason that the Vatican acted quickly - as compared to their leaving in office the admitted felon Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City - is that I'm sure the German hierarchs didn't want to risk loosing their very comfy money stream which flows right into their pockets.

Too bad we have such strict separation of church and state here in America???

Tax strike! Money talks and is apparently the only thing that does (well, that and lawyers). Withhold your donations or target them explicitly for church causes you deem worthy -- and make sure that the collars know it.

Judy --

I fear you might be right.  My one last hope for Francis is that he is acting out of his very systematic personality -- he seems to tackle one big problem at a time then conquor it thoroughly (see the IOR mess).  Hopefully, this is what he is starting to do with the bishops problem.  Yes, the problem is bishops not pervert priests.  And, given that he too is a product of the clerical system that trains bishops to see no evil in other bishops, it isn't surprising that he too has been a laggerd in this.  But the ball has dropped now, and if his new Commission doesn't put some teeth into those new statutes, then it is unlikely that Francis will ever learn unless the decent bishops take him to task publicly.  Yes, there are some decent bishops.  But are there enough?  And there is always the Holy Spirit.  (But where HAS the Holy Spirit been in all this????)

What Judy said.  Someone asked Helmut Schuller at one of his appearances here why the priests in Europe were more likely to openly dissent the church's teachings and if I remember correctly he said that the Vatican knew the pople in those countries wouldn't stand for the few priests they had being fired.

Jim Pauwes:

I wonder which one of the buildings will be named Tara.

Correction: Jim Pauwels.

That statement of Gregory's won't result in his smelling like "the flock", but more like sheep dip. 

As a former resident of farming country, I can assure you that sheep dip is a far cry from incense or the Chanel family of scents.

Jim Jenkins,

The Church tax in Germany does not work they way you imagine it to work.  It is amtter of law and is paid by the members of each denomination.  The only way the state can reduce the amount given to the churches is if individual members of a given church inform the government that they no longer subscribe to it and wish not longer to pay the tax.  This has happened a lot in recent years in Germany, but the German bishops have struck back by saying that any Catholic who refiuses to pay the Chrich tax will be denied the sacraments and cannot have a Catholic funeral.

Ditto, all Bill deHaas listed.

Also, maybe there is a precedent in the way Francis did this. I believe the issue was placed in the lap of the German Bishops Conference. Their published report was the basis for the resignation submitted to Francis, yes?

Francis could have said "off with you" and get out. But a more round-about approach was based on the findings of a group of bishops in a collegial move. Will this be a pattern?

But would the USCCB ever have the spine, much less the decency, to write a report identifying what prevents a fruitful exercise of ministry amongst one of its "brothers?" 


Alan Mitchell @ 12:28 asked if Archbishop Gregory is mocking Pope Francis.

Yes, that's how I read it. Sarcasm is unwarranted here, but he plainly thought it was fine to reply in this way. Very depressing. Not even to keep up the pretense of respect... this is a new low.

I guess the view depends on the mountain your standing on; $500,000 wouldn't be enough to buy a singe familiy home in my middle-class  Bronx neighborhood- though I'm sure property values in and around Newark are much, much lower. 


But I am really, really bothered by the $180 million price tag on renovating our NYC cathedral.  It seems like there must be some alternatives which would provide a cathederal-sized worship space for a lot less than that.


Is it true that title to a lot of diocesan property is held by whoever is bishop at the time? That, technically, he would own it personally? A couple of people have told me this, but it seems a little hard to believe.


"It is now quite clear that Pope Francis priorities are to protect the church's money rather than protect the church's vulnerable children."

While I would never deny there is a rational basis for being disappointed at Francis's apparent lack of a laser focus on abuse crisis -- to be so absolute and definitive in one's assessment of his priorities is unfair.

What is clear to me is that Francis has inherited a Church steeped in clericalism and episcopal privilege (the root cause of the abuse crisis) and he has done far more than I could have ever imagined to move the Church away from these toxins. 

Jack @ 8;24, " be so absolute and definitive in one's assessment of his priorities is unfair."

I would agree. Number one, Pope Francis has named a board for systemic work on the abuse crisis, no such board named for financial abuse. Number two, making a good decision on this matter is no proof of anything besides this matter. 

Futher, the matter of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has been reported on (read: the Pope's intervention has the support of) the German episcopal conference. No such support has been forthcoming from the American conference in dealing with scandals of their confreres. 

"A move into a residence for retired clergy could be fraught with similar challenges — perhaps more for the other residents than for the bishop (while the analogy is far from perfect, try to imagine what it would be like if you had to spend your remaining years in the easy chair next to your boss)."

Point taken: after all, my last boss before my retirement is Jewish and keeps kosher.  So I doubt we could live in the same retirement home, even though I'm just as gaga about cats as she is, and her six pets wouldn't bother me.

However, I feel compelled to point out that religious brothers and nuns manage to live together harmoniously in their golden years.   There's more than a whiff of elitism in the implication that a bishop would demean himself by living alongside some of the priests he used to boss around.  But if it's truly awkward, why couldn't a retired bishop simply move to a retirement home in a diocese where he never held an administrative position?


"Gregory believes the new $2.2 million mansion will allow him to “smell like the flock..."

"Buckhead is a pretty tony area of Atlanta; this site suggests that the average home prices on some streets exceeds $1.3 million.  That's where the cathedral is."

O, yeah, there's sheep AND THEN THERE'S SHEEP!

So AB Gregory wants to smell like the SHEEP?

Hold onto that brass ring, AB :-)


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