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Germany's shamed 'Bishop of Bling' pays fine to settle court case

November 18, 2013|By Carol J. Williams
  • The Limburg, Germany, residence of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, on which he is accused of spending $42 million in church funds, may be turned into a refugee center or soup kitchen, a British newspaper has reported.
The Limburg, Germany, residence of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst,… (Frank Augstein / Associated…)

The German bishop suspended by the Vatican last month for spending lavishly on foreign travel and furnishings for his $42-million residence renovation has paid a $27,000 fine to settle a court case brought against him for lying under oath.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg was accused by German prosecutors of bringing a false claim against Der Spiegel after the weekly news magazine reported that he had flown first class on trips to minister to slum-dwellers in India last year.

Tebartz-van Elst told court officials in two sworn affidavits backing his complaint against Der Spiegel that he had not taken first-class flights to India. The Der Spiegel reporter, however, had videotaped an interview in which the bishop admitted doing so, and the court in Hamburg accepted the tape as evidence that the 53-year-old cleric had lied under oath, Deutsche Welle reported Monday.

Proceedings against the bishop were dropped Monday after receipt of the fine, Der Spiegel reported.

Tebartz-van Elst came under fire last month when it was disclosed that he had overspent on his residence renovation by 800%, including a $20,000 bathtub, $620,000 worth of artwork and $1.1 million in landscaping.

The bishop's lifestyle stirred revolt among parishioners, especially after the austere and humble Pope Francis was elected to lead the Vatican in March. It also prompted European media to dub him the "Bishop of Bling."

Tebartz-van Elst was placed on indefinite leave last month after the Vatican issued a statement saying that "a situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties."

A week after the bishop's suspension, the Independent newspaper of Britain reported that Limburg parish leaders were considering converting the lavish residence into a refugee center or a soup kitchen.

Tebartz-van Elst's predecessor had taken in a refugee family from Eritrea, the newspaper noted.

"The residence is like an inherited sin which the bishop has left in his wake,” a spokesman for the Caritas charity, which ministers to the homeless, told the Independent, suggesting that providing food and shelter for the needy could expunge the residence of that sin.

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

carol.williams@latimes.com

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