BERLIN — A German bishop already facing questions over his new multi-million euro (dollar) residence now has legal problems after prosecutors on Thursday accused him of lying to a court.
Chief Hamburg prosecutor Nana Frombach said in a statement that she had asked the court to fine Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst an unspecified amount for providing false testimony in a case he brought against Der Spiegel magazine.
Tebartz-van Elst's office had no comment.
Tebartz-van Elst has been under pressure over the construction of a new residence complex and related renovations that his diocese confirmed this week cost around 31 million euros ($42 million). The Vatican had sent a senior official, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, to investigate complaints.
Tebartz-van Elst defended the construction in an interview printed Thursday in Bild newspaper, saying it was really 10 projects and there were additional costs because of regulations on buildings under historical protection.
The head of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, told reporters Thursday that he was following the situation with "great concern." Asked whether Tebartz-van Elst should be removed from his post, Zollitsch said he would make a recommendation to Pope Francis in Rome next week.
Pope Francis himself has set a new bar for modesty: He lives in a spartan suite in the Vatican hotel rather than the Apostolic Palace, eats his meals in the mediocre hotel dining room and is driven around Vatican City in a Ford Focus.
He has urged his priests to follow suit, saying he wants them to think about all the children who die of hunger when they're tempted to buy a fancy new car.
In the Hamburg case, Tebartz-van Elst had filed a civil court claim against Der Spiegel magazine for a report he took a first-class flight to India on a trip to visit poor children. He questioned Spiegel's report that he claimed to have flown business class, stating in an affidavit he had never said that.
Frombach said her office had determined that Tebartz-van Elst's affidavit was false.
Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome