Pope Francis removes Bishop Tebartz-van Elst

The Holy See issued today a statement on the diocese of Limburg, Germany:

With respect to the administration of the Diocese of Limburg in Germany, the Congregation for Bishops thoroughly studied the report of the commission which was established at the request of the bishop and the cathedral chapter. This was in order to undertake a thorough investigation of the authorities involved in the building of the diocesan center “St. Nikolaus.”

In view of the fact that it has come to a situation in the Diocese of Limburg which impedes a fruitful exercise of the episcopal office by His Excellency Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Holy See has accepted the resignation offered by the bishop on October 20, 2013, and named an apostolic administrator in the person of His Excellency Manfred Grothe.

The departing bishop, His Excellency Tebartz-van Elst, will be entrusted with another assignment within a given time.

The Holy Father implores the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Limburg to accept the decision of the Holy See willingly and to strive to .find their way to a climate of mercy and reconciliation.

From the Vatican website (Pray Tell translation).

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Tebartz-van Elst had his supporters in the German church. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former bishop of Regensburg, was one of the strongest. He saw the Limburg bishop as victim of a media campaign, and said at a Mass in Rome in October that the accusations against the bishop were the “invention of journalists.” He ruled out removal of the bishop and claimed that Rome supported the bishop “completely and fully.” He told that Tagespost in September, “The bishop of Limburg will remain.”

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the papal household and private secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, underscored last September that the German bishops’ conference had no formal right to call for the bishop’s removal. He claimed that the whole discussion wasn’t about church finances at all: “Seen more profoundly, it is a question of faith and the direction [of the church]. Will Tebartz-van Elst lead his diocese as a Catholic bishop, or will the diocese go down its own path?” Gänswein said that in Limburg there were “forces that have a goal other than the clarification of financial matters.” He was seen to refer to criticism of Tebartz-van Elst’s authoritarian and conservative style of leadership.

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At his Wednesday general audience today, Pope Francis spoke on the sacrament of Holy Orders. He called for prayers for bishops and priests who must newly rediscover “the value and the freshness of their vocation.” He emphasized the importance for clergy of prayer, hearing the Word of God, daily celebration of Mass, and regular confession. A bishop who does not live like this “loses unity with Jesus in the long run and becomes mediocre in a way which doesn’t help the church.” The pope said, “A bishop who does not serve the community is not good. A priest who does not serve his community is preposterous.”

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28 comments

  1. Thanks – wonder if this sets a precedent that could be footnoted and used by the newly named sexual abuse committee?

    How does this impact the movement to empower national episcopal conferences to make this decisions and actions?

  2. Money seems to talk, but the bishop has to resign first. Unless one can dig dirt the guy wanted to dialogue with people about alternate ministry solutions. Then it’s open season.

  3. A Primus Inter Pares Reform of the Curia?

    Note the important role of the Congregation of Bishops, not the Secretary of State, or the CDF, or the Consistory of the Cardinals, or the Synod of Bishops, or the Council of Cardinals in this removal of a bishop!

    Greenleaf is most famous for the first chapter of Servant Leadership, i.e. the The servant as leader however his second chapter The institution as servant is equally important. Greenleaf completely replaces hierarchical government by primus inter pares government. However this is anything but government by committee or a rotating primus. Greenleaf was a senior manager at AT&T when it was the largest corporation. He saw the challenging role of the primus as that of getting each and every member of the leadership group (including the primus) to work on the things they did best AND to collaborate with everyone else on the things they did best. While few organizations have adopted this model, the parishes and mental health organizations that seem to work best usually unconsciously adopt something close to this model.

    THE SECRETARY of STATE: Francis has focused the task here on the diplomatic service of the Vatican and what it can do quietly to change the world given the moral leadership provided by the Pope. That is certainly a big job in itself

    THE CDF; this former competitor of the SECRETARY of STATE has been downgraded to a rank below that of the SYNOD of BISHOPS. However Francis has seemingly encouraged Muller to articulate the conservative theological case against mercy for the divorced. Nevertheless the Coordinator of the COUNCIL OF CARDINALS has challenged Muller to be more flexible and less “Germanic.”

    THE CONSISTORY OF CARDINALS: when Francis put the Synod on Marriage before the consistory of cardinals, he chose neither the Secretary of State nor the CDF Prefect nor the SYNOD prefect nor any of the members of the COUNCIL OF CARDINALS but Cardinal Kaspar! ! Again primus inter pares government, using the most talented people and avoiding power struggles

    THE COUNCIL OF CARDINALS: Obvious Francis relies heavily upon these people for advice. However his advice is not limited to them, and when he decides something they may or may not be further involved. It is not like the whole show is there.

    THE SECRETARY of the ECONOMY. This new entity is so far the only one other than that of STATE that has the title of Secretary. It even gets to oversee the budgets and financial dealings of everyone else. Many observes agree Pell is the sort of tough guy needed for this job. However it looks like Francis has surrounded Pell with a lot of other people who will force him to act collegially, and more importantly keep him out of other people’s business.

    CONGREGATION OF BISHOPS: Francis has put a lot of effort into making clear to the members of this congregation and the nuncios what type of bishops he wants. The Bling Case may be a strong message to this Congregation that they better do a good job, because they also have to fire and relocate poorly functioning bishops!

    I think Greenleaf would give Francis high marks for primus inter pares government.

  4. Glimpses of Vertical and Horizontal Collegiality?
    the Bling Case and the Sexual Abuse Commission

    THE BLING CASE

    The Bling case involved the German Bishops, and a commission of inquiry (which probably included laity) as well as the Congregation of Bishops, and a retired Cardinal that attempted to mediate things.

    This suggests that future issues (e.g. Sexual Abuse, the New Missal) might well start with a commission at the diocese and/or national conference level that would attempt to get the facts straight. These commissions could well include laity, or even be dominated by laity, since their job is to find what is working, what is not working, and the possible options.

    Francis has praised the importance of parish councils, and regularly includes them in events. I suspect he wants them to be more than rubber stamps but does not see them as final decision makers.

    THE SEXUAL ABUSE COMMISSION

    This group of eight which looks like it is charged with defining the problems, the best practices and the options has a very unusual initial composition: half are women, majority are laity, three are priests, only one is a bishop (Cardinal O’Malley). Looks like the group has a lot of freedom to recommend how to carry out its functions and recommend new members.

    Now think for a moment of a NEW MISSAL COMMISSION charged with defining the benefits, problems and possible options for the New Missal. And then think of one composed of 50% women, 20% laymen, 20% priests and 10% bishops! That would likely be a game changer even if the results of the commission were sent to the American Bishops. It might particularly be a game changer if the report were to be reviewed by a newly constituted CDW which might be willing to make decisions if the bishops could not agree among themselves (which seems to have been the case with the German bishops and Bling)!

    I have been a member of a pastoral council. Like most it was a rubber stamp. I only got to be on it because no one else wanted to be. It was a convenient place for people to become familiar with our large parish with doing anything.

    However the rubber stamps could change if bishops began to realized that what Rome does when it has complaints is to have a fact finding commission composed mostly of laity. Here in Cleveland even prior to Francis the Congregation of the Clergy overturned parish closures because the bishop had failed to have real consultations with the parishes and with his council of priests.

  5. Sadly, the Catholic blogosphere chooses to focus on the person rather than an outdated financial system that is the root cause of this matter.

  6. Theresa, I agree that the problem here is far deeper than any single bishop.

    With that said, I don’t think the system, however outdated it is, forced or even encouraged this bishop to spend money as he apparently did, even his own money. Surely, even before the example of Pope Francis, anyone who was not entirely tone-deaf to the Church would have refrained from this kind of spending.

    Incidentally, and since this is Pray Tell after all: it seems to me that a “bling bishop” like this makes life harder for those who want to see more liturgical “bling”: jewelled mitres, fancy vestments, silk trains etc. So the “trads” as well as the “progs” have a bone to pick with this bishop.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #7:
      Yes, I agree with you that even before Pope Francis this would have been absurd. It’s hard to picture yourself back in time, not knowing what you know now, but I think that if this had come out four years ago, many, myself included, would have been asking “What? A 54 MILLION dollar retirement home?!?!? Really?!?!?”

  7. Not to defend the bishop’s bling, but simply to raise a point about the facts: Doesn’t the so-called “bishop’s residence” actually refer to an entire diocesan pastoral center, with the bishop’s house being one building within that complex? And that house is not a retirement home, correct? (Or, at least, it was not originally designed to be a retirement home?)

    http://www.google.com/search?q=bishop+of+bling&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=7Fg0U9OLGIWnsATa8YHIBw&ved=0CDsQ7Ak&biw=1094&bih=624

  8. Perhaps commentator #8 is mixing this up with the Archbishop Myers retirement home issue. The Limburg situation is a large complex of buildings many of them historic as I understand it. The residential issue was a small part of it – it would be helpful if we were actually to see the report into what happened. Without that the whole thing smacks of show trial – and is ironic when we recall that the super-wealthy German episcopate late in the pontificate of Benedict declared that people who don’t pay into the Church tax couldn’t receive the sacraments. Why is this bishop going down for a bathtub?

    1. @Timothy O’Brien – comment #10:
      I don’t see this as a show trial. An extensive investigation was done into fiscal mismanagement, and it shows that the bishop is culpable on a number of points. I believe the report is about to be published or soon will be, and I expect the German media to summarize it in good time and tell us all about the extensive problems in his exercise of authority. The pope wouldn’t make his decision on the bases of a show trial or what he read on some blogs – the report gives him his reasons.
      awr

    1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #11:
      Fr. Ron – how so??

      From multiple sources to date:
      – paid fine of $30,000 to settle a court case in which he lied about testimony on flying first class to India and saying business class in court
      – it is multiple buildings next to the cathedral and yes, some of these are historical buildings that required refurbishing (per some accounts, previous biship resided in the seminary and did not pay attention to upkeep?)
      – yet, there is evidence that some of the spending is on his own personal residence within this compound…some of this involved lavish spending (e.g. $25,000 bathtub; est. $500,000 for vestments) and that he made changes to the ongoing project requiring that some work had to be altered after it was finished (e.g. raising the roof of his personal chapel to fit a hung Advent wreath made of a series of candleabras.)
      – question about architects involved and that bishop had fired his capital board
      – questions about whether this project (which easily exceeded $5 mil pounds received Vatican approval
      – questions about selling other properties to fund this project without various boards consulting on this
      – fact that some (most) of thes project was funded by a long set up fund dating back to the 19th century and which the bishop never reported on
      – then, based upon various sources (e.g. Crisis Magazine, Whispers) this is made out to be a progressive conspiracy because the bishop is very conservative and has angered liberals and the liberal bishop he replaced

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #14:
        As in cheese, Bill. I was remembering my father’s fondness for the stinking delicacy.

        (I should desist from trying to inject humor into a serious discussion.)

    2. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #11:
      The Bishop’s family, including his 85 year old mother, received death threats. The whole lynch mob mentality of this situation is disgusting. The unprofessional behavior of the German press is a disgrace. Using an obviously photoshopped image to illustrate an article is not journalism. Choosing an unflattering image to illustrate a critical article is, frankly, dishonest.

  9. OK, then perhaps I was hoodwinked. I should know that the media often leave out little details, and in this case it sounds like one of those “details” was that this wasn’t merely a home, but a pastoral center. Or maybe I just didn’t do my research well enough before commenting.

  10. Well we have to consider the situation that Francis faces:

    1. He is in the midst of Curia Reform, and clearly that means shifting around and reorganizing responsibilities in the Curia in what is beginning to look like a massive way.

    2. He has clearly opted for collegiality and so he is in the midst of sorting out what things are better done at the level of national conferences, etc.

    Clearly how best to discipline a bishop involves both Curial reform and collegiality reform.

    Therefore how things have been done in the past by Popes does not tell us how they might be done in the future once these reforms are implemented.

    Francis likely decided that something had to been done to address the issue. I think how it was handled gives us some clues about where he is going in both Curia Reform and the role of Bishop’s conferences.

    The public knows far more about the process in this case, e.g. the report, the German bishops, the congregation of Bishops, than even most bishops knew about any of the past cases in which bishops have been fired.

    Francis apparent spontaneity should not blind us to the fact that he is also very deliberate, e.g. he made a lot of general decisions within a few days of his election but slowly unveiled and implemented them over about six months. In this case also it took about six months for it all to come out.

  11. Not topically related other than the issue of hype over Curial reform: One year in, and the Congregation for Divine Worship is in the same hands.

  12. David & Timothy – here you go:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/03/28/how-the-bishop-of-bling-spent-43-million-renovating-this-house/?tid=pm_national_pop

    And this just reports the cost of items….nothing about the process; who approved/authorized; firing of various boards in order to spend these amounts, etc.

    And, of course, he met with Francis today and Vatican rumors suggest that he is blaming his vicar for not overseeing this better.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #22:

      As one comment elsewhere put it, my list for Archbishop of Chicago just got a little shorter.

      I continue to pray for “new” bishops like I prayed for a “new” pope. I think every bishop needs to pray at least once a year as to whether the church might be better served by him retiring to a life of prayer like Benedict. I hope Benedict created an awesome precedent not only for the papacy but also for bishops.

    2. @Charles Culbreth – comment #22:
      I am not sure what you know about the Cathedral in Atlanta, but it is no where near like the Limburg situation.

      The facts are pretty much these:

      1) the Archdiocese was the recipient of a large bequest from the estate of Joseph Mitchell, the nephew, I think, of the author Margaret Mitchell. The bequest was about $15 million and involved some real estate in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.

      2) the Cathedral and school and rectory is situated on a postage-stamp piece of property in the middle of Atlanta and is totally land locked. There is no way to expand beyond the borders of the current property.

      3) the Archbishop built a house on property from the Mitchell bequest so that his former residence could be remodeled into a rectory for the priests located at the cathedral which will in turn allow the former rectory to be torn down and allow for expansion for the church on the property and that is the only way to improve the property for the parish

      4) the number I have heard for the cost is $2.2 million, which is not tiny, but for the particular real estate market involved is very reasonable. And it is nowhere near the money spent in Germany

      You may have been able to to do things slightly cheaper here or there, but this isn’t so much about the Archbishop’s excess as it is making the best use of property for Cathedral as a whole in a difficult situation and a high end real estate market. This also isn’t a back pedaling rationale: when the bequest was announced the general plans were also announced.

      You can read about it here with the plans stated at the end
      http://www.georgiabulletin.org/news/2012/08/mitchell-heir-leaves-estate-to-archdiocese/

  13. We had a situation in the diocese of Lancaster in England where diocesan laity were illegally spending money against the assets of parishes on their own pet projects oblivious to the fact that this was illegal under canon law. The now retired bishop, to his credit, smelt a rat and acted. The nuncio ordered an enquiry into similar spending throughout England and Wales but nothing came of it.

    I agree that the bling affair is a stitch up. Billions were spent on compensation during the abuse scandals and the American bishops, unlike the Irish, rarely resigned.

  14. Can we expect a papal audience for the emeritus bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris?

    Or would the Pope’s chief adviser in matters Australian counsel against this?

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