Pope Francis made a profound statement today by suspending Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany for spending $43 million on renovating his residence. The “Bishop of Bling,” as he has been dubbed by the media flew to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis about his lavish spending last week.
The Vatican released a sober statement regarding this bold move, noting that, "A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties." Among the more offensive purchases: $20,000 for a bathtub and $34,000 for a conference table. Did you know it was possible to spend $34,000 on a conference table? The Bishop of Bling found a way.
Pope Francis suspending Tebartz-van Elst is just the latest head-turning move by the first South American Pope, but it might be his strongest yet. There has long been tension between religious laws and norms and the laws made by countries. Pope Benedict was more concerned with gays and abortion than ostentatious wealth. Pope Francis seems more motivated by the core Catholic teaching of compassion than enforcing specific prohibitions. By suspending the Bishop of Bling, Pope Francis is throwing weight behind the idea that it is not enough to believe and pray, you have to live Catholic values to be recognized as a leader of the church.
Alois Glueck, the head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Germany’s largest lay Catholic group, applauded Pope Francis’ decision:
"Pope Francis's decision offers the chance of a first step toward a new beginning in the Limburg diocese, because the situation has become an increasing burden for the faithful there, and in all of Germany, over recent weeks."
Pope Francis, viewed as a transitional Pope due to his age (76), is causing more transition in the Catholic Church than anyone could have anticipated. The best Pope ever keeps getting better.