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Suspension of 'Bishop Bling-Bling' puts light on spending by faith leaders

Published: Friday, Oct. 25 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2013 file picture Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, right, Bishop of Limburg, Germany, attends a mass during a meeting of German Bishops in Fulda, Germany. Pope Francis temporarily expelled the German bishop from his diocese on Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013 because of a scandal over a 31-million-euro ( US dlrs 42 million) project to build a new residence complex, but refused popular calls to remove him. The Vatican didnít say how long Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst would spend away from the diocese of Limburg. But it said Limburgís newly named vicar general, the Rev. Wolfgang Roesch, would run the diocese during Tebartz-van Elstís ďperiod of time away.Ē (AP Photo/dpa,Arne Dedert,File)

Arne Dedert, Associated Press

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The suspension of a Catholic bishop in Germany over his lavish spending has put a light on other instances of excess by faith leaders who hold themselves out as humble, modest servants of the Lord and the people.

Pope Francis expelled Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, from the diocese of Limburg on Wednesday pending the outcome of a church inquiry into his 31 million-euro ($43 million) new residence complex, according to the Associated Press.

The decision came after Tebartz-van Elst was summoned to the Vatican to meet with the Pope on Monday.

Reports of a $20,000 toilet and $482,000 walk-in closets weren't the only items that Tebartz-van Elst — or "Bishop Bling-Bling" as he's been dubbed by his critics — had to answer for.

The Independent reports that the diocese is in upheaval over the palatial home of the bishop and over claims he lied about the cost of a flight he took to India.

"Germany’s 24 million registered Catholics make a compulsory contribution to the church from their income tax," the newspaper reported. "And some of them, angered by the diocese’s decadence, staged protests outside the bishop’s expansive residence. One churchgoer told the German DW news agency: 'I am praying for our bishop to be healed of his egomania.'"

A deeper look into the spending of other Catholic bishops in Germany by the Religion News Service showed Tebartz-van Elst isn't the only one with expensive tastes.

"In Germany, most of the church’s top officials drive high-powered Mercedes, BMWs or Audis," RNS reported. "Other German clergymen have been chastised for lavish expenditures. Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich’s archdiocese spent around $11 million renovating the archbishop’s residence and another $13 million for a guesthouse in Rome."

The story noted that under Pope Francis, who "drives around Vatican City in a 20-year-old white Renault clunker," such excess is viewed as not just "unseemly, but a scandal."

Across the Atlantic, a different kind of dispute over Catholic assets is taking place. Some Staten Island, N.Y., residents aren't happy about the sale of a Jesuit retreat house to a developer.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, a group of concerned residents have gone to court to stop the sale of the Mount Manresa retreat by the New York Province of the Society of Jesus. They claim the Jesuit order was less than honest with the community when it took up donations to restore Mount Manresa then sold the 15-acre "ecological gem" of old-growth forest and habitat for rare birds to the Savo Brothers for $15 million.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the pastor of the megachurch Elevation Church is responding to criticism over a $1.7 million home he has built, the Huffington Post reported.

Pastor Steven Furtick says he built the home with proceeds from book sales, not church donations. But his critics say the two sources are intertwined, since he uses the pulpit to sell his books.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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