'Luxury bishop' must take responsibility for crisis: German church head

Reuters
An aerial view shows the Limburg cathedral and the ensemble of the bishop's residence with private chapel in Limburg
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An aerial view shows Limburg cathedral (R) and to the left the ensemble of the bishop of Limburg's residence …

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Roman Catholic bishop under fire for spending some 31 million euros ($42 million) on an ultra-luxurious residence should examine his conscience over the crisis he has caused, the head of Germany's bishops said on Monday.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg in western Germany has stirred anger and calls for his resignation among German Catholics and media over huge cost overruns on his residence at a time when Pope Francis is stressing humility and serving the poor.

"I am convinced that the bishop of Limburg... will confront this situation in a spirit of self-criticism," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German bishops' conference, told a news conference at the Vatican.

Zollitsch, one of the highest ranking figures in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, will discuss the crisis this week with Pope Francis, who early in his pontificate renounced the papal apartments for a simple residence.

Tebartz-van Elst flew to Rome at the weekend but his whereabouts are unknown. It was not clear whether he would also meet the pope, who has called for a more austere Church and has told bishops not to live like princes.

Speaking at a previously scheduled news conference not related to events in Germany, Zollitsch said he viewed the Limburg situation "with great attention and great concern".

Zollitsch said the German Church would "have to draw the consequences" of the scandal that is shaking it, adding that he had sent the pope a dossier.

The German media has dubbed Tebartz-van Elst "the luxury bishop" after an initial audit of his spending, ordered after a Vatican monitor visited Limburg last month, revealed the project cost at least 31 million euros, six times more than planned.

Tebartz-van Elst, whose baroque style was more in line with the conservative model of Roman Catholicism projected by retired German-born Pope Benedict, has also been accused by German magistrates of lying under oath about a first-class flight to visit poverty programs in India.

The "luxury bishop" story has become front-page news in Germany, deeply embarrassing a Church enjoying an upswing thanks to Pope Francis's popularity after years of criticism for hiding sexual abuse cases among clergy.

German media, citing official documents, said the residence had been fitted with a free-standing bath that cost 15,000 euros, a conference table that cost 25,000 euros and a private chapel that cost 2.9 million euros. ($1 = 0.7373 euros)

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson and Stephen Brown in Germany and Tom Heneghan in Paris; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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