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Pope accepts resignation of Germany’s ‘bling bishop’

Germany's controversial bishop of Limburg/FILE

Germany’s controversial bishop of Limburg/FILE

VATICAN CITY, Mar 26 – Pope Francis has formally accepted the resignation of Germany’s controversial bishop of Limburg, who had come under fire for his luxury lifestyle.

Franz-Peter Terbartz-van Elst, nicknamed the “bling bishop” by the international media, had been indefinitely relieved of his clerical duties by Francis last year after details emerged of his high-roller lifestyle.

The Roman Catholic bishop had faced outrage over an ostentatious building project at his official residence, which included a museum, conference halls, a chapel and private apartments, in the ancient town of Limburg in central Hesse state.

The project was initially valued at 5.5 million euros ($7.5 million) but the cost ballooned to 31 million euros, including a 783,000 euro garden and a 15,000 euro bathtub — using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.

Tebartz-van Elst, 53, had also come under fire for lying under oath about flying first class to visit slum dwellers in India.

He had told a journalist with the Hamburg-based news weekly Der Spiegel that “we flew business class”, but then in sworn testimony denied having said those words.

However, the reporter had videotaped him making the comment, and the embattled bishop settled the court case with a 20,000 euro payment in November.

The scandal sparked calls for greater transparency in Catholic Church finances, a reform aim of the new pope who has called for a “poor Church for the poor”.

The bishop had initially defended the costly project, saying the centuries-old hilltop cathedral complex adjacent to the modernist new structure is heritage protected, complicating the development.

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But his apparent profligacy had sparked ridicule and anger in Germany, with calls for the big spender to be thrown out on his ear and for reforms in the selection process for bishops and the auditing of their finances.

Anger that taxes paid to the Church by ordinary Germans were apparently being squandered led to demonstrations outside Tebartz-van Elst’s residence.

The Vatican said he would be transferred to another post, without specifying which.

“The Holy Father asks the clergy and faithful in the Limburg diocese to gracefully accept the Holy See’s decision, and make an effort to return to a climate of charity and reconciliation,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The scandal had sparked comparisons between Tebartz-van Elst’s love of luxury and the pontiff’s humble style.

The 76-year-old Francis has refused to move into the lavish papal palace in the Vatican, staying instead in the Casa Santa Marta, a residence for visiting clergy and lay people.

He has repeatedly called for the Catholic Church and its faithful to rid themselves of earthly concerns like his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, warning that “worldliness is a murderer because it kills souls, kills people, kills the Church.”

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