VATICAN CITY –– The president of the German bishops' conference said he is following with "great attention and great concern" the case of a bishop accused of making false statements in court and under fire for allegedly spending close to $40 million in renovations and new construction on his residence and diocesan offices.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the bishops' conference president and recently retired archbishop of Freiburg, told reporters Oct. 14 that the conference has formed a commission to investigate the project in the Diocese of Limburg, and he expected the head of the diocese, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, to do some serious "self-examination."
"It is not my place to judge the bishop of Limburg, but I am convinced he will undergo the necessary self-examination in the light of this situation," said Archbishop Zollitsch, who arrived in Rome Oct. 13 for the plenary meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization and for a regularly scheduled meeting of the officers of the bishops' conference with Pope Francis.
Archbishop Zollitsch said it was obvious that the situation in Limburg would be one of the topics of his meeting with the pope.
Vatican Radio reported that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst also arrived in Rome Oct. 13.
"I take the situation in Limburg very seriously," Archbishop Zollitsch said.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has been accused of living extravagantly while cutting diocesan programs, but questions also have been raised about how the renovation and construction project was funded and whether the bishop followed the requirements of canon law that large expenditures be approved by the diocesan finance council, the Vatican, or both.
The investigating commission, Archbishop Zollitsch said, includes experts in canon law, finance and construction. The members were to begin their work the week of Oct. 14, he said, and "clarify the costs" of the project, "how it was financed" and "how decisions were made to finance it."
In a separate allegation involving alleged luxury, a state prosecutor in Hamburg issued an indictment against Bishop Tebartz-van Elst Oct. 10, claiming he had given false testimony in court. The bishop had sued the magazine Der Spiegel for an article alleging the bishop flew first class on a trip to India for charity work.
The German media, which often refer to Bishop Tebartz-van Elst as the "luxury bishop," have been following him closely and frequently mention Pope Francis' simple lifestyle as a contrast.
In early September, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, sent retired Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo to visit the diocese to promote peace between the bishop and some of the diocese's priests. In the end, the bishop agreed to publish figures about the construction project and to cooperate with the bishops' conference commission.