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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bishop set to be sued for millions by his former diocese.

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Facing a demand for millions?: Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, then still bishop of Limburg, at the end of 2012 in the chapel of the Episcopal Residence



The Diocese of Limburg presses the former Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst for damages. To this end, the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese appointed by Pope Francis, Bishop Manfred Grothe previously of Paderborn, has made an application to the competent court of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Rota. An opening of the proceedings has not yet been decided on according to information given to this newspaper. Because of the scope of that decision, however, it is to be expected that, the dean of the Rota, the Italian canon Pio Vito Pinto will consult with the Congregation of Bishops who are responsible for Tebartz-van-Elst. The former Limburger bishop could soon lose their support.

Tebartz-van Elst, formerly auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Münster abandoned the office of the Bishop of Limburg after only six years in March 2014. Then as now, he feels like a victim of Church intrigues and media campaigns, although a commission appointed by the Vatican and the German Bishops' Conference has come to the conclusion that the bishop in the financing of a new Episcopal residence on the hill of Limburg Cathedral in conjunction with close associates massively violated the standards set by canon law for asset management.

After the retirement of Bishop Franz Kamphaus in winter 2007, the cathedral chapter had insisted on the construction of a new Episcopal residence, so that the successor had no longer to live in the seminary. The initial cost estimates for the construction of a new Episcopal residence in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral led the Cathedral Chapter in February 2008 to cap "at two million euros, after intensive consultation with our Bishop, the budget for the previously non-existent residence of the Limburg bishop and the requisite restoration of the historic and listed timbered building standing next to it as offices". A little later, however, reserves to the level of EUR 2.5 million were made to absorb cost increases.

Fictitious construction costs for the public

As the Episcopal residence was officially handed over at the end of June 2013, Tebartz-van Elst let it be known that construction costs amounted to 9.85 million euros. However, only the specific decisions of the so-called asset administration council of the Episcopal See were non-existent. The sum itself soon proved to be as fictitious. The staff responsible for the construction employees of whom some are still in office had long since realized that the cost of planning and construction, had exceeded by at least a factor of two if not three the publicly disclosed sum. Over the summer, the web of lies that Tebartz-van Elst had erected around the building collapsed under the pressure of intense media scrutiny. At the beginning September 2013 the former papal nuncio in Germany, Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo prompted a commission headed by Grothe, a financial professional, to review the behaviour of the bishop and his staff.

After several months of investigation, the Commission concluded in February 2014 that Tebartz-van Elst had spent 31.5 million euros on the construction of the Bishop house - and largely illegally. The commercial-law depreciation of the building has been in recent years to an extent of about 3.9 million euros. Not quantified is the damage to the assets of the Episcopal see which grew as a result of the many extravagant and extremely costly works.

Tebartz-van Elst lives in Rome

The Limburg prosecutor refused last year to initiate an investigation for breach of trust against the former bishop. In this case, the prosecutor's office appealed to ecclesiastical self-determination and thus followed the reasoning of a legal opinion that the Limburg bishopric leadership had commissioned at the insistence of Rome. The decision of the Limburg prosecutor is not beyond dispute. The Hessian Attorney General has least one complaint.

Tebartz-van Elst has lived for several months in Rome, with the highest possible retirement salary of the diocese of Limburg and the title of "delegate" within the "Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization". Among his supporters, he can continue to count on the support of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith and that of the Congregation for Bishops, the Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Müller and Marc Ouellet, and the Head of the Papal Household and secretary of Pope Benedict XVI., Archbishop Georg Gänswein. There is conflicting information about the extent to which Pope Francis is familiar with the details of the Tebartz-van Elst case.



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