Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
The Vatican has found a place for the “Bishop of Bling.”
It’s still a bit of a mystery, with no official confirmation, but it seems that Pope Francis has agreed to make German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst the “delegate for catechesis” at the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. It’s a new position, created just for him.
Nearly a year ago, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Tebartz-van Elst as the bishop of Limburg, in the wake of a spending scandal. The bishop was remodeling his residence and a diocesan center to the tune of $40 million (his walk-in closets alone were said to have cost $480,000.)
At that time, the Vatican said Tebartz-van Elst would eventually be given another assignment. His position at the new evangelization council will involve making contact with bishops’ conferences on issues involving religious education, which has been one of his areas of interest. In contrast to earlier reports, he will not be given an executive position at the council.
It struck some as odd that a bishop forced to resign for financial mismanagement would land any job in the Roman Curia. All the more, in this case, because under the Curia restructuring plan being hammered out by papal commissions, the council for new evangelization may well disappear sometime next year.
However, parking problematic bishops in the Curia is a bit of a Vatican tradition.
After former Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo was removed from his Zambian diocese over faith-healing practices in 1983, he was brought to the Council for Migrants and Travelers as a special delegate. In 2011, Portuguese Bishop Carlo Azevedo ended up in a newly created position of delegate at the Pontifical Council for Culture, following disagreements with the patriarch of Lisbon.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is only 55, and presumably has many years of service to the church ahead of him. Whether his time at the Vatican is rehabilitation or reward remains to be seen.
One group wasted no time criticizing the appointment. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement: “This is why corruption in the church hierarchy continues. And it’s why the supposed ‘new policies’ to deal with irresponsible bishops won’t work. Because virtually no wrongdoer is ever harshly disciplined. And even when a prelate’s misdeeds are so egregious that the Vatican must act, the ‘discipline’ is temporary.”