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Religion

German dioceses open books in wake of Tebartz-van Elst scandal

While 'luxury bishop' Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst awaits his fate in the Vatican, five German Catholic dioceses have made their finances public. Tebartz-van Elst continues to face calls for his resignation.

German Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (pictured above) is also in Rome and will brief Pope Francis on the situation in the Limburg diocese, where scandal has hit after estimates put the eventual cost of construction for the bishop's new residential complex at 31 million euros ($41.8 million). A week of front-page headlines in Germany prompted the decision for the Bishop of Limburg to accompany Zollitsch on his long-scheduled visit to the Vatican.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst's private quarters in a complex builty next to the city's historic cathedral are believed to have cost 2.9 million euros alone, reportedly including a free-standing bathtub worth 15,000 euros.

The Bishop of Limburg's troubles are twofold: He also faces a fine from a Hamburg court for allegedly providing false testimony in a case he filed against Der Spiegel magazine, which reported he had flown first class to India to visit poor children.

The budget overrun in Limburg has prompted the dioceses of Cologne, Munich, Essen, Hamburg and Speyer to make their finances public. The former revealed assets as of December 2012 of 166.2 million euros, posting an income of 9.6 million euros in the same year.

The archdiocese of Munich posted total assets of 27.6 million euros, while the diocese of Speyer had a worth of about 46.5 million.

The issue is fast becoming more than just an inquiry into the actions of Tebartz-van Elst. The perceived extravagance flies in the face of Pope Francis' call for a “poor church for the poor,” and there is keen interest in how the Vatican will act.

Speaking on Tuesday, the Christian Democrats' special representative for church and religious affairs, Maria Flachsbarth, called the news from the diocese of Limburg "disturbing." Flaschbarth also said that should the allegations against Tebartz-van Elst prove true, this should perhaps prompt structural changes in the Church, not just personnel changes.

ph/msh (dpa, AFP)

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