BERLIN — Since being elected in March, Pope Francis has made a mark with his displays of modesty, eschewing lavish papal apartments for a spartan guesthouse in Vatican City.
Apparently, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, the bishop of Limburg, Germany, is not on the same page. Roman Catholic bishops rarely serve as tabloid fodder or top the TV ratings. But the Limburg prelate earned that distinction last week as outrage swelled after the media reported the cost — 31 million euros, or $42 million — of the renovation of his residence, and a state prosecutor in Hamburg charged him with lying in a legal case.
The bishop ordered up a palatial living room, and his apartment alone cost $3.9 million, according to Jochen Riebel, spokesman for the body administering church property in Limburg. Riebel said the bishop had lied last summer when confronted over the cost, estimating the renovation at just $13.5 million.
By Friday, calls for Tebartz-van Elst's resignation were multiplying almost as fast as the number of people quitting the Roman Catholic Church. (In Germany, believers declare their religion and pay taxes to the church unless they withdraw, which rising numbers have chosen to do.)
In September, as thousands of Catholics signed petitions for and against him, the bishop begged forgiveness from all whom he might have "hurt and disappointed." After a visit from a Vatican envoy, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who was sent to investigate the furor, the bishop agreed to have the church investigate his spending, which he has insisted incorporates 10 separate building projects and was mandated by preservation laws.
For many commentators, the legal case in Hamburg hurt even more than the bills for the residence. A senior state prosecutor, Nana Frombach, charged Thursday that the bishop made false statements twice under oath during his legal action against the newsweekly Der Spiegel, which in 2012 reported that he flew first class on a visit to the poor in India. If found guilty, the prelate could be fined.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said he was befuddled by the multimillions spent by his prelate when the figures emerged last week.
Canon law experts quoted by the German media said that only the pontiff could decide to remove the bishop.