GERMAN Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst – better known to the world as the “Bishop of Bling” who was sacked in 2014 for taking extravagance to levels even the Catholic Church thought were beyond the pale – has resurfaced in a new role in the Vatican.
Writing for Crux, John L Allen Jr noted that Tebartz-van-Elst has been appointed “delegate for catechesis” in the Council for New Evangelization – and suggested the move indicates that Pope Francis’s Vatican has an “Ironic Employment Division”.
Why was the bishop sacked? Here the story:
In the end, Tebartz-van-Elst was brought to Rome and given “a new gig”. Although his appointment is a matter of public record – it’s even on his Wikipedia page – the Vatican hasn’t made much of a noise about his new role.
In case memories have dimmed, Francis was compelled to remove Tebartz-van-Elst in October 2013 due to public backlash against his spending an estimated $42 million on remodeling his diocesan center and residence, including $1.1 million for garden landscaping and even $22,000 for a bathtub.
Originally, the Vatican said the Bling Bishop was being granted a temporary sabbatical outside the diocese. That “temporary” measure became permanent in March 2014, at a time when the Vatican was trying to negotiate an agreement under which Tebartz-van Elst would not be sued by the Limburg diocese in an effort to recoup its losses over the construction projects.
The question then became what to do with him since Tebartz-van-Elst was only 54 at the time of his exile, a full two decades short of the usual retirement age for Catholic bishops of 75.
Given that the main complaint against Tebartz-van-Elst in Limburg was that his regal spending habits were ‘unevangelical’, at odds with the witness of Jesus in the Gospels (not to mention Francis in the papacy) and thereby driving people away from the faith, many observers would likely find his present assignment as a top Vatican official for evangelization not just a little bit jarring.
In reality, however, no one probably should be surprised. There’s a long tradition of clerics in disgrace in their homelands ending up in Rome, but in the Francis era they sometimes wind up in jobs that almost seem a private papal satire.
Most famously, there’s the case of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta of Argentina, who resigned his post heading the Diocese of Oran in August 2017 amid accusations of abuse of power and ‘strange behavior’ (charges of sexual abuse of adult seminarians came later).
The rap sheet against Zanchetta also features charges of financial misconduct, including selling a building belonging to the diocese for $800,000 without going through the proper channels and leaving the transaction off the diocesan books.
Despite that, Francis in 2017 not only brought Zanchetta to Rome but named him Assessor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the Vatican’s financial powerhouse which oversees both the Holy See’s investment portfolio and its real estate holdings in Italy and around the world.
Once again, it’s hard to imagine a Vatican gig (other, perhaps, than with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors) that would seem more ironic given the baggage Zanchetta carried.
Of course, Francis presumably knows more about these situations than any of the rest of us, and he may well have perfectly valid reasons for appointing or confirming such officials to the posts they currently hold.
On the other hand, cynics may simply roll their eyes and say that this is just another example of how deeply corrupt the RCC really is.