“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of the Limburg diocese apparently forgot that tidbit of wisdom, or maybe he felt that it did not apply to him since he believes he’s on the fast track to salvation just for being a man of God. Regardless of the internal workings of his mind, Germans aren’t happy, and neither is the Vatican.
Pope Francis wasn’t kidding when he chided his Catholic priests and bishops for becoming too materialistic. Since the South American cardinal become pope last spring, he has created shockwaves among the priesthood, shaking up the status quo, and vowing to clean house. In Germany, Tebartz-van Elst clearly took advantage of the billions of dollars the Roman Catholic church collects each year to renovate his residence.
According to Forbes, the bishop purchased a $20,000 bath tub. He spent $50,000 to construct walk-in closets and shelled out another $35,000 for a conference table. That isn’t all. Tebartz-van Elst even used more than $1 million to landscape his residences’ gardens. This wouldn’t such a source of public outrage except that in Germany, all churches are publicly funded by tax payer contributions, and if a German citizen does not belong to a church, they must prove it or pay a fine. The Kirchensteuer (church tax) requires citizens to register with a church their tax forms. Catholics pay a rate of between 8 and 9 percent, depending on where in Germany they live. The tax is a holdover from Medieval times, and many citizens have begun to question the law as an incentive for the church to abuse its believers’ trust.
Because of this, Germans are demanding not just Tebartz-Elst’s suspension, but his resignation, an understandable sentiment. So it is fitting that the bishop’s residence, according to a report in the Independent, could become a refugee center or a soup kitchen for the poor. Forcing church officials and clergy to face their “sins” is a refreshing change from the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.
Not long before his resignation, Benedict ordered a custom made cologne for himself, with hints of verbena and limewood. The former pontiff was also famous for his bright red leather shoes and tooled around in a custom made Renault. During his time as pope, the Roman Catholic church experienced an exodus so large -- even in countries where it has a stronghold -- it gave the Vatican cause for alarm.
Francis, who previous was known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio , has already gained wide popularity among Catholics and non-Catholics for his dedication to remaking the Church’s image to reflect the true meaning of Christ’s work. He has extended open arms toward the scorned of society: the disabled, the religiously disenfranchised, the LGBT community. He has not endorsed same-sex marriage, but his message of love and acceptance is clear, which troubles some of the more fundamental believers in the U.S. and some conservative nations.
He practices the humble life he preaches and has eschewed the luxurious trappings so many high level clergy fall prey to. He travels around in a sensible Ford Focus. He dons simple garb. He carries his own briefcase and lives in a smaller apartment than his predecessor.
Who knows what will become of the Bishop of Bling, but Germans and all Catholics should not expect Tebartz-van Elst to return to his duties any time soon. And many refugees and poor citizens will be thankful to have one more place to go when times get tough.