VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis temporarily expelled a German bishop from his diocese Wednesday because of a scandal over a 31 million euro ($42.64 million) project to build a new residence complex, but the pontiff refused popular calls to remove him.
The Vatican didn’t say how long Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst would spend away from the Diocese of Limburg. But it said Bishop Limburg’s newly named vicar general, the Rev. Wolfgang Roesch, would run the diocese during the bishop’s “period of time away.”
Father Roesch had been due to take up his duties as Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s deputy on Jan. 1 but will start running the diocese immediately, the Vatican said.
In a statement, the Vatican said the situation in the diocese had become such that Bishop Tebartz-van Elst “could no longer exercise his episcopal ministry.”
The decision was taken after Francis met in the past week with Bishop Tebartz-van Elst and the head of the German bishops conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.
At the center of the controversy is the 31 million euro price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has said the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because of regulations on buildings under historical protection.
The Limburg scandal has been front-page news for weeks in the country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church. The issue over transparency in church finances also has struck a chord among German Catholics since a church tax in Germany brings in billions of euros a year to the German church.
The Vatican stressed that Francis took the decision based on continuous and “objective” information, suggesting that the Vatican wasn’t being swayed by the popular outcry over the scandal.