Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has been removed from his post as head of the Diocese of Limburg, Germany, after heated complaints about his heavy spending on a personal residence.
The Vatican announced on October 23 that “a situation has arisen in which Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst cannot, at the present moment, continue to exercise his episcopal ministry.” The Vatican has therefore directed the German bishop to leave the diocese. (Source)
This story broke just a few days ago in the mainstream media, as the bishop apparently spent 30 million euros (about C$43 million) to renovate his residence and a diocesan office building. Critics described his personal spending habits as “lavish.” German prosecutors also accused him of filing false affidavits in a lawsuit over reporting on his spending habits.
That’s not exactly what Jesus meant when he said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) 😉
I’m pleasantly surprised at how quickly the Vatican moved on this. His suspension is great news. We can’t have bishops living high on the hog and wasting precious Church resources.
However, there’s a troublesome corollary to this swift suspension.
You see, for years we’ve had many bishops publicly dissenting from Church teaching and doing scandalous things, yet they weren’t suspended. And here we have a bishop who wastes money, hardly the most valuable asset of the Church, and he gets shown the door within days. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Let’s be frank: the only bishops to get suspended over the last several years were generally either implicated in sex scandals or wasting money. What’s the common denominator? They got lots of bad press from the secular world and were accused of crimes against secular laws. But if a bishop does something that “only” violates Church laws and “only” scandalizes faithful Catholics while going undetected by the media, no suspension occurs. We could list a few such examples:
- The Cardinal of Vienna calling for legal recognition of homosexual unions
- UK bishops calling for changes to Church teaching on contraception and divorce
- A Canadian bishops conference paying for its employees’ contraceptives
- The Cardinal of New York and the Bishop of Sault-Ste-Marie stating that pro-abort politicians are Catholics in good standing
- The bishop of Joliette protecting Fr. Gravel amid his multi-year dissent-a-thon
- A Boston Cardinal’s canonization of Ted Kennedy
- A Canadian bishop who spearheaded the Winnipeg statement and is a leading practitioner of the Enneagram.
- A German bishop opening the door to communion for divorced people (although the Vatican did tell him to halt the implementation of that policy)
You get the idea.
Is the pattern any different in the Archdiocese of Ottawa? The only priest suspensions I can remember were either sex abusers or Fr. Joe Leclair, charged by the police with misusing parish funds. Meanwhile, the pastor of St. Joe’s remains in office despite his parishioners going to Gay Pride parades and communing with other deities.
What’s the message here? Is money more important than the Sacred Deposit of the Doctrine of the Faith or the scandal caused to souls? Is media coverage, rather than the gravity of the crime, the determinant of who gets disciplined among the clergy? What’s going on here?
None of this changes the fact that the Catholic Church remains the Bride of Christ and the bulwark of Truth. Nor should it shake our faith in the institutions of the papacy or the episcopacy. But it makes you wonder about the decision-making of the current incumbents in high offices. At the very least, I would like to understand the criteria used in this decision-making process. I know at least one faithful Catholic, a friend of mine, who underwent a severe crisis in faith over this problem. It’s a real problem affecting the salvation of souls, especially those misled by dissenting clergymen.
In fairness, we can’t blame this on Pope Francis. He’s been on the Chair for about six months. Virtually all the examples above (and many examples that I didn’t list) occurred under John Paul II or Benedict XVI. This is a long-standing problem within the Church hierarchy and it’s very disheartening.