Two stories centered on finances and the Church hierarchy hit the news this week.
The first was the resolution of the saga of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg. Known as the “Bishop of Bling,” the head of the Diocese of Limburg has been under fire since the fall when plans for a $43 million renovation for his house were made public.
He was suspended from his ecclesiastical duties in October, and, at the end of March, Pope Francis accepted his resignation. In a statement, the Vatican said it had accepted the offer “given that a situation exists in the Diocese of Limburg which prevents the fruitful exercise” of his duties.
The second story was out of Atlanta, where local parishioners cried foul at Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s decision to spend $2 million renovating building a new residence — on land belonging to the estate of Margaret Mitchell, bequeathed to the archdiocese in 2012.
Both pieces have received a significant amount of media coverage, mostly because the stories stand in stark contrast to Pope Francis’ ongoing focus on simplicity and humility.
Certainly Pope Francis has been encouraging us all to become more intimately tuned in to what it means to sacrifice. And multi-million dollar homes definitely do not fit that mold.
What’s more telling, however, was how those two men handled their individual situations.
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst issued a statement the day after the Vatican had published its report, implying that his deputy, Vicar General Franz Kaspar, should have watched his spending more carefully.
“As I am not an authority in the area of church management, as my qualification is in pastoral theory, I have to relinquish the responsibility to Dr. Kaspar who was [according to the report into the spending] ‘the only person with an overarching view of the seat’s assets,’” he said.
Apparently you have to be an authority on church management to realize that $2.38 million on bronze window frames and a $300,000 fish tank fall in the category titled “over the top.”
In Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory issued his own statement in response to the “many” letters, emails and phone calls from the faithful questioning the money being spent on his new extravagant home. In an 1,100-word piece published in the Georgia Bulletin, the archbishop put the blame squarely on himself. Not only did he apologize to the Catholics of his archdiocese, but to those who helped him in the planning.
“I fear that when I should have been consulting, I was really only reporting, and that is my failure,” he wrote. “To those who may have hesitated to advise me against this direction perhaps out of deference or other concerns, I am profoundly sorry.”
Two situations, two bishops and two responses. But, it seems, only one lesson learned.