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Religion

Pope Francis meets with 'luxury' bishop

The pope has met with the bishop of Limburg, whose spending habits have drawn criticism in his home country of Germany. He is currently under pressure to resign over a 31-million-euro ($42 million) renovation project.

Pope Francis held a private audience with Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst on Monday, according to the Vatican. The German bishop had flown to Rome last week to attend the meeting.

The question of what disciplinary action would be taken against the German cleric remained unclear, as the Vatican statement did not offer details of the private audience. However, in a statement released by Limburg diocese the bishop said he was "grateful for the very heartening meeting."

"He and the pope agreed the tenor and content of their meeting would remain confidential," it added.

The pontiff also met with Cardinal of Cologne Joachim Meisner on Monday. The meeting had already been scheduled before the scandal erupted. However, as Limburg falls within the ecclesiastical province of Cologne, the bishop's recent activities were expected to be discussed. Meisner, once one of Tebartz-van Elst's defenders, recently distanced himself from the controversy.

The new pope has defined his papacy thus far by stressing his desire of seeing the return of "a poor Church for the poor." The direct clash of Limburg's use of funds has prompted speculation that Francis would make an example of him by forcing him to resign.

No decision is expected to be made about Tebartz-van Elst's fate until Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishop's Conference, files a report. The pope met with the top German archbishop last week.

The 'luxury' bishop

The scandal over the possible misuse of Church funds has drawn criticism in Germany, where parish funds come not only from donations, but also from a special "church tax" paid by registered adherents to their respective denominations.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, 53, became an object of public scrutiny this month when his diocese announced the costs for the renovation of his new residence and offices would be 31 million euros, far beyond the original estimate of 5.5 million euros.

A separate scandal had also drawn attention to the bishop of Limburg around the same time involving his trip to India on a visit to impoverished communities. He had denied claims by the German news magazine Der Spiegel that he had flown first-class. The Hamburg prosecutor subsequently issued an indictment against him for allegedly submitting false affadavits.

The surprising cost of the renovation project has prompted calls for his resignation by German Catholics.

Tebartz-van Elst has defended the costs, citing the breadth of the project as the main reason for the exorbitant bill.

kms/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa)