OXFORD, England (CNS) — Germany’s Limburg Diocese pledged “dialogue and transparency” after a former Vatican nuncio was sent to defuse complaints of extravagance against Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo met with Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, cathedral staff, local clergy and religious order representatives for a week, culminating in a Mass Sept. 15 in which the bishop apologized for any “carelessness or misjudgment on my part.”
The bishop also said he agreed to let an outside commission audit his finances.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and Cardinal Lajolo celebrated the Mass together. During his homily, Cardinal Lajolo emphasized the Vatican’s concern for finding a consensus on the questions raised during his visit.
“The final report of the commission, which will examine and include all costs, finances and procedures involved, will be disclosed publicly,” Bishop Tebartz-van Elst said in a joint statement with cathedral chapter advisers.
As the Cardinal Lajolo met with the Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, a diocesan spokesman acknowledged that media reports about the prelate’s first-class flights and his luxuriously appointed new residence “has led to difficulties among priests and people here.”
“The bishop is aware of their concerns and wants to be in dialogue,” said the spokesman, Stephan Schnelle. “He knows the importance of transparency in appeasing anxieties.”
In a Sept. 12 interview with Catholic News Service, Schnelle said Cardinal Lajolo arrived Sept. 9 in the diocese in the small western German town to seek a “solution in peace for all parties,” but added that local Catholics were “generally supporting” Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.
The 53-year bishop attracted media attention after his November 2008 appointment for criticizing Islam and dismissing a local priest for blessing a same-sex union.
He later was criticized for a costly renovation and other affiliated expenses on a diocesan center and episcopal residence at a time when other church properties were being closed in a downsizing move.
In June, Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly said the complex, whose estimated cost has tripled to nearly $20 million, resembled a “monstrous luxury complex.”
The weekly also charged that the bishop submitted a false affidavit after flying first class on a January 2012 visit to slums in Bangalore, India. Prosecutors are investigating the financial records of the diocese.
Priests from the Limburg Diocese have criticized Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s leadership in homilies, public statements and, mostly recently, in a petition, signed by 4,400 people presented to him Sept. 6.
In a Sept. 10 statement on its website, the diocese said Bishop Tebartz-van Elst met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, at the Vatican Aug. 28. The statement said Cardinal Ouellet expressed “every confidence” in the bishop’s guidance of the diocese in a Sept. 3 letter.
However, the published letter also said recent events had “spoiled the church’s mission” and threatened “damage” to the bishop’s office.
It added that 78-year-old Cardinal Lajolo, who was nuncio to Germany from 1995 to 2003, would make a “fraternal visit” to Limburg.
In a Sept. 1 pastoral letter, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst told Catholics he had been hurt by “resentment and criticism” directed against him and would invite parish representatives to a “personal encounter.”
“I see some of my decisions in a different light today; looking back, I would have gone about some things differently,” said the bishop, who also chairs the marriage and family commission of the German bishops’ conference.
“But I need your trust even more. Where only suspicion and mistrust govern, there can be no living Christian community.”
However, the head of Germany’s neighboring Mainz Diocese, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, told the German press agency, DPA, Sept. 9 that Cardinal Lajolo’s visit was an “alarming signal” that Rome believed the problems could “no longer be solved solely within the Limburg diocese.”
Schnelle told CNS that local people had been misinformed by the media into viewing the new diocesan complex as a “waste of money,” adding that church leaders expected to begin “finding a way out of the crisis.”
“All sides need to follow the way of transparency together. It’s important to talk about everybody’s cares and needs,” he said.
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