How the ‘Bishop of Bling’ spent $43 million renovating this house


Limburg’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in his private chapel at the bishop’s residence in Limburg an der Lahn, central Germany December 12, 2012. (BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/DPA)

On Wednesday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a longtime German cleric who today is known as the “Bishop of Bling.” Francis’s rationale: Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who looks like the pastoral theorist he is, had spent a mind-boggling $43 million on home renovations at his palatial pad in Limburg, Germany.

The revelation, delivered in a 108-page report, created a big time optics problem for Pope Francis who has tried to infuse the Catholic Church with humility.  Francis — who met with President Barack Obama on Thursday to discuss “the poor, the marginalized…and growing inequality” — drives a Ford Focus. He also resides in a Vatican guesthouse, and likes to be called the Bishop of Rome, the most modest of his many titles.

Thursday, the Vatican still hummed with gossip. Tebartz-van Elst issued a statement in which he tried to shift blame to his top deputy, Vicar General Franz Kaspar, who he claims failed to oversee his spending habits.

Picture taken on August 30, 2013 shows Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst walking out of the cathedral in Limburg an der Lahn, central Germany. Hamburg's Public Prosecutor filed an indictment on October 10, 2013 against the controversial Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. He is accused of having given false affirmations in lieu of an oath. AFP PHOTO / DPA/ FREDRIK VON ERICHSEN
Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst walking out of the cathedral in Limburg an der Lahn, central Germany on August 30, 2013. (FREDRIK VON ERICHSEN/AFP/GETTY)

Tebartz-van Elst said he’s not qualified to understand that building things can at times cost money. “As I am not an authority in the area of church management, as my qualification is in pastoral theory, I have to relinquish responsibility to Kaspar, who was the only person with an overarching view of the seat’s assets.”

He claimed, the Local reports, that the lavish expenses were because he had witnessed other construction go wrong. So, he felt he needed to “observe the quality and durability of [this] entire project.”

In the time since this revelation, a lot of questions have surfaced. The diocese has announced the cleric will get a new job at the “opportune time,” but what will that job entail?

And also the simplest question of all: How did he spend all that money?

 

The long list of expenditures begins with a fish tank, but not just any old fish tank. According to the 108-page report, his two-meter deep fish tank, filled with Koi carp, cost of $300,000.

An aerial view shows the new constructed seat of the bishopric of Limburg, central Germany, on October 9, 2013. The costs for the new seat of bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has risen to 31 million euros. (THOMAS FREY/AFP/DPA)
An aerial view shows the new constructed seat of the bishopric of Limburg, central Germany, on October 9, 2013. The costs for the new seat of bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has risen to 31 million euros. (THOMAS FREY/AFP/DPA)

And then, the list gets crazier:

  • Item: garden. Bill: $917,000. Fun Fact: it was called the “Garden of Silence.”
  • Item: hanging an advent wreath. Bill: $25,000. Fun Fact: Workers had to open up the chapel roof — with a crane — to install it.
  • Item: heated stones. Bill: $26,000. Fun Fact: They were used to line outdoor paths for more comfortable walking.
  • Item: Bronze window frames. Bill: $2.38 million. Fun fact: The cost was supposed to be half that. But Tebartz-van Elst, the report shows, really wanted his window frames to be bronze.
  • Item: light switches. Bill: $27,000. Fun Fact: Really, they’re just light switches.
  • Item: doors. Bill: $673,000. Fun Fact: They were of the “highest quality.”
  • Item: art. Bill: $1.6 million. 
  • Item: LED lights. Bill: $894,000. Fun Fact: They were built into floors, the walls, underneath steps, inside handrails and window frames — which were of course bronze.

One expense, however, that Tebartz-van Elst couldn’t apparently abide? Too many employees. During his tenure, he reportedly cut his staff.

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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