Vatican Suspends German Bishop Who Spent $42,000,000 on the Renovation of His Home

I first heard of conservative German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst last year, when Der Spiegel revealed some salient facts about a trip the Catholic shepherd undertook.

The Catholic bishop of Limburg, a small city in western Germany, apparently had noble motives when he boarded a plane to India with his vicar general in mid-January. “We were there to support social projects in and around Bangalore,” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst reported after his return. They wanted to help children “who worked breaking stones,” he added.

But this man of God didn’t just want to do something good for the poor. He also wanted to do something nice for himself. On the upper deck of a jumbo jet, he and Vicar General Franz Kaspar had made themselves comfortable in the plane’s first-class section, which offers such amenities as champagne, caviar and a bed.

Price per ticket: almost $10,000.

Prior to that, in his hometown, Tebartz-van Elst had already become the subject of amazement, ridicule, and anger for spending unheard-of amounts of money on the renovation of his official quarters. Local and then international media began dubbing him “the Bishop of Bling,” sometimes contrasting the price of the renovation — a cool $42 million, says the BBC — with his homilies about frugality and sacrifice:

Tebartz-van Elst preaches to his flock to sate their thirst with water not wine. “Renewal begins where the efforts toward making due with less are made,” he has instructed them. “The person of faith is dirt poor and rich in mercy,” he once said in a Christmas sermon. And on the Assumption, he declared: “Whoever experiences poverty in person will discover the true greatness of God.”

The bishop’s spiffy residence now boasts a $4,000,000 private chapel, an immaculately manicured designer park, and a bath tub reportedly costing $20,000.

Suitably embarrassed by this Trumpian glitz-fest, last week, papal authorities summoned Tebartz-van Elst to the Vatican (not a place where excessive bling is usually frowned upon). I assume they nonetheless had an epic talk with him.

“A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties,”

the Vatican declared yesterday, announcing that Their Man in Germany had been suspended. Few Vatican-watchers expect him to return to his Limburg duties.

Tebartz-van Elst’s stunning profligacy may be the final straw for some German Catholics who had remained loyal to the Church. After a string of clergy child-abuse cases, and the Church’s recent controversial practice of denying certain sacraments to those who decline to pay the hefty religion tax imposed via the German government (8 to 9 percent is added to believers’ regular income tax burden), the latest scandal just might push diehards from their faith.

They’ll have lots of company. For decades now, more than a hundred thousand Germans a year have abandoned the Catholic Church.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Holy shit! I thought the figure was a typo at first.

  • baal

    The reason he was punished was for making their wealth even more conspicuous. The sin here is making the RCC look bad in ways they can’t hush up.

    • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      The *irony* is awesome. The Pope has the Vatican which is worth Billions, but suspends a Bishop for having a home worth $42-million.

  • sam

    There are days when I find it hard to relate to xians’ bloodlust & yearning for a Hell to punish the wicked. This is not one of those days.

  • 3lemenope

    “Prince of the Church” is not a throwaway title.

    • Stev84

      There used to be prince-bishops who had both secular and ecclesiastical authority.

      • 3lemenope

        Or what this German fella undoubtedly thought of as “the good old days”.

  • Mario Strada

    Love that Beamer he is driving. I should have been a corrupt German Bishop. Too bad they didn’t present us with that option on career day.

  • flyb

    “…he and Vicar General Franz Kaspar had made themselves comfortable…”

    Vicar General Franz Kaspar: “rent boy” auf Deutsch?

    • Lagerbaer

      Vicar… Ficar… Ficker. Which is the German word for an English word that you obtain by replacing the i with a u.

  • Lindsey Stock

    I can’t get enough of that picture of him in his car. Do you see that smirk on his face? He’s not even trying to be inconspicuous about how loaded he is. And then he has the nerve to preach frugality and living a non-materialistic life? And the RCC wonders why people accuse them of hypocrisy.

    • Terry Firma

      I saw that photo earlier this year, but as I recall he was at an auto show or something. I don’t think (based on my vague recollection of the caption) that it’s his personal car. Tried googling it and can’t confirm it now.

      It’s a cool photo that symbolically illustrates the nub of the problem, but it’s maybe not what we think it is. My apologies if I misled anyone. Let’s proceed with caution, and stick to what we know. What we know is bad enough!

      • Lindsey Stock

        Ah. I suppose it doesn’t look nearly as horrible when taken in context. Although he still does have some nerve preaching frugality while living in a giant ass house worth millions of dollars.

    • new_atheist

      And, no one here is going to comment on the fact that he looks exactly like Billy Bob Thornton in that picture?

    • Mark W.

      Of coarse the priesthood preaches frugality to the flock. How can the church fleece them if they’ve spent all the dollars on stuff for themselves?

  • Mick

    I don’t believe he spent $42,000,000 on that one house. I’ll bet he’s given huge amounts of cash to his family, and that he’s got millions stashed away in bank accounts, ready for the day when he finally gets the sack.

    • Stev84
    • Compuholic

      I’ve heard that the RCC has problems to find enough new priests. So I doubt that he’ll be given the sack unless they cannot avoid it any more. He’ll probably get reassigned somewhere else with less exposure to the public.

      As for this incident. It might be convenient to exclusively blame him for the exorbitant costs of his house. But for a project like this there has to be more than a single person who was involved in it. It is not like 42 millions are spent overnight. There has to be a commitee of some sort in charge of overseeing this project. But one has to ask: “What the hell did you do the whole time?”

      • TurelieTelcontar

        From what I gathered (I’m German, and it’s in the news here, but I’m not too closely floowing it, so I might have misunderstood something) the plan was for 30 million. So, if you have neough paperwork, the exact costs of this thing might have been buried for a while, until someone actually added all the individual costs up.

  • Randy Meyer

    I find it sickening that this got the Vatican’s attention whereas other actions taken by priests and other clergy get covered up.

  • Walter Conti

    Bath Tub was a two seater… nonetheless.

  • Stev84

    The way I read it, he wasn’t summoned to the Vatican but went there on his own seeking an audience after the case really blew up in the media.

  • mikespeir

    Now let’s have a look at the Pope’s digs.

    • Terry Firma

      Under Francis, it’s not what most people expect.

      • ShoeUnited

        Sounds like Benedict kicked him out towards the end of that article.

      • mikespeir

        Actually, I’m impressed. I didn’t know that. Of course, I’m sure it still costs a pretty penny, but it’s not necessary to be as poor as I am.

        • David Kopp

          Yup. I still don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he at least seems to be truly walking the walk. Can’t blame him for that. He’s already 10x better than any Pope that’s been there in my lifetime.

          • Andrew G.

            John Paul I might have been better, had he survived longer…

            • David Kopp

              Maybe. He still lived in the papal apartment, and enjoyed his nice things. I’m pretty confident calling it that as of right now, he’s better, especially if he keeps it up (which he shows no signs of changing).

  • Persephone

    Fucking children is still okay though, right?

    • Randy Meyer

      That’s right! Good ol’ religious preaching at its best!!

    • roger

      The Gelgamek vagina is over five foot wide and filled with razor sharp teeth! Do you really expect us to have sex with that?

  • Matthew Baker

    I just did some research and it would seem bishops don’t have to take any sort of vow of poverty. But given how much power and influence many bishops have had in the past and currently I am not as surprised as I should be.

  • # zbowman

    Given the church’s track record on what they’ll sack people for, I’m honestly convinced there’s something else going on here. The money’s horrendous, but I get a nasty feeling that it’s an excuse to get him out of the limelight before something else comes up.

    • Lagerbaer

      I think it’s more the crass disconnect between what Pope Francis tries to convey and how this bishop is behaving. Given that the pope tries to display himself as an advocate of the poor, he’d lose all credibility if he’d tolerate Bishop Bling.

    • TurelieTelcontar

      It’s a big scandal in Germany, and it’s possible that the church is afraid that the German public will actually react to taht by becoming more secular, and taking away certain privileges. In addition to the tax mentoned in the article above, the German state also pays all the higher church officials, like bishops and cardinals. And most of the other stuff the church needs. For the two main churches here, which is the Catholic church, and the Lutheran church. The income of the church officials alone is over 400 million dollars a year.

      It’s a relict because Napoleon took away the church properties, the state now pays the church for this loss – and that got put into the constitution of the Weimar reublic, and again into our constitution now.

      So, I do believe the church is afraid of something more than the bishop making them look bad. But I do believe it’s also to do with money – they are afraid that the German public in large will finally realize how much tax money is paid to the churches, and how much influence is given them. And once they realize that that is not paid with the church tax that you can at least stop paying if you stop being a member of the church, but with normal tax money that everyone has to pay – well, that could prove disastrous. For them.

      • # zbowman

        Good point. I hadn’t considered localised cultural factors in it – I guess when dealing with a big monolithic evil like the Church it can be easy to forget that the nations they’ve infected aren’t so featureless and uniform as the dogma it inflicts on them!

  • God’s Starship

    Short story: He got slapped down for being to obvious about what the Church is really about.

  • WallofSleep

    Alright, I have to ask. In know this article is about a catholic bishop, so what’s with the picture of a pimp above the fold? I don’t get it.

  • Lagerbaer

    I find it actually a bit sad that more people seem to be leaving due to this than over the child abuse scandal…

    Regarding the car: He doesn’t drive his own car, he has a chauffeur and uses him to get around town even for the shortest distances.

    One additional thing to add insult to injury: Many church-run community centres, especially in the dioceses of Limburg, are in desperate need for repairs. Youth centres are closed due to issues with mould, for example. This is what drives many Catholics there to now leave the church in anger.

  • Ron

    A million here, four million there—pretty soon you’re talking real money.

  • Lurker111

    As I said elsewhere: Ya know, ya gotta have a cool-lookin’ crib for when ya bring the chicks over.

    • The Other Weirdo

      You misspelt chicks rent boys, a totally new expression I just found and will from now on use everywhere.

  • Carmen

    The most interesting point of this article is about the “religion tax” in Germany. I’d like to know more about that!

    • TurelieTelcontar

      Basically, every religious society which is federally recognized as one, has the right to raise a tax. The state takes that tax and gives it to the church, and the state gets a cut (3-4%), as payment for the service.
      In 2012, the catholic church got 5,2 billion (no, not a typo) Euros in tax that way.

      So, if you are an official member of an official religion, you don’t chose to tithe, you have to pay tax. In return, you get the church services, like not having to pay the priest for weddings (I believe) or funeral services (I know). Not paying the tax is considered leaving the church, and so that is considered excommunicating yourself, and therefor makes you unavailable to receive the sacraments. So far, I really have no problem with that. The religious societies make the rules, the state has a contract with them that they get the money, and is in turn paid for the service. The problem is that if a couple is married, the one earning more money has to pay the tax, even if they aren’t the religious one.

  • Carmen

    Since when does the RCC care about looking too rich?

  • The Other Weirdo

    So now we know where the RCC’s priorities lie. When you molest children, you get shuffled from parish to parish. When you overspend RCC money, you get suspended.

    • Terry Firma

      It’s a start. As much as I dislike organized religion, and would like to see the Catholic Church shrivel into irrelevance, I’d rather deal with believers who live in the nineteenth century than with those who live in the fourteenth.

      Unless the new Pope is a cynical master of empty PR moves, he does seem to represent a new (and to me, welcome) era in the Catholic faith. I’m actually kind of excited to see where Francis takes the Church, in years to come. He seems more likely to atone for — and pay for — the incalculable harm done to children by his mitered band of childfuckers than any Pope in living memory. We’ll see.

  • Rain

    I’m surprised they didn’t excommunicate him. “And I say, it is easier to go through a camel than to enter the kingdom of dog.” That’s a direct commandment from the lord dog almighty him or herself.