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Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (born 20 November 1959) is a German prelate of the Catholic Church and theologian. He was a vicar and an auxiliary bishop in Münster before becoming the Bishop of Limburg in January 2008. Pope Francis removed him from the exercise of his episcopal office on 23 October 2013 and on 26 March 2014 accepted his resignation as Bishop of Limburg, following a long-standing public dispute about the costs and financing of a diocesan construction project.

The Most Reverend

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
Bishop Emeritus of Limburg
a young bishop of Limburg
Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in 2017
In office28 November 2007 – 26 March 2014
PredecessorFranz Kamphaus
Ordination26 May 1985
Consecration18 January 2004
by Reinhard Lettmann
Personal details
Born (1959-11-20) 20 November 1959 (age 60)
Twisteden, Kleve, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Previous postAuxiliary Bishop of Münster
Coat of armsFranz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's coat of arms
Styles of
Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
Coat of arms of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.svg
Reference styleThe Most Reverend
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Religious styleBishop

Life and ministryEdit

Tebartz-van Elst is the second of five children born on 20 November 1959 to a farming family in Twisteden, near the Catholic pilgrimage village of Kevelaer in North Rhine-Westphalia.[1] "Van Elst" likely indicates that one of his ancestors came from the Dutch city of Elst, Gelderland.

He studied philosophy and Catholic theology at the Wilhelms University of Münster and the Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg. He completed further theological studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. From 1990 to 1996 he was vicar and chaplain at St. Paul's Cathedral in Münster, before receiving a teaching appointment at the University of Münster. His work in pastoral theology focused on the baptism and catechism for adults, and his manual for adult baptism reflects his focus on the Catholic evangelism of adults in an increasingly secular Germany.[2][3]

In 2003, Pope John Paul II named him titular bishop of Girus Tarasii and auxiliary for the Diocese of Münster.[1] On 28 November 2007, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Limburg.[1] In Limburg, he replaced Franz Kamphaus, whose liberal views had brought him into conflict with Pope John Paul II. In 1999, Kamphaus had refused to follow a Vatican instruction that Catholic organizations cease cooperation with medical clinics that issue referrals for abortions. He even refused when faced with a direct ultimatum from the Pope in March 2002, and the Vatican then stripped him of authority over counseling centers for pregnant women. Tebartz-van Elst, named a few years later to replace Kamphaus, who had been popular with his clergy, was seen as a representative of Roman discipline and authority.[4]

Early controversiesEdit

In 2008, Tebartz-van Elst admonished one of his priests, the Rev. Peter Kollas, for joining a Lutheran pastor in blessing a homosexual couple. The bishop argued that the relationship did not conform to Catholic teachings; Kollas argued that offering a blessing contradicted no norms of Catholic practice. Citing broken trust, the bishop removed Kollas from an administrative appointment within the diocese, while leaving him as pastor of his local church in Wetzlar.[5]

In 2012 Der Spiegel reported that Tebartz-van Elst's and a travel companion flew to India in first class earlier that year, contradicting the church's position on personal austerity. Tebartz-van Elst sued the magazine and swore in affidavits submitted to the court that he had traveled in business class using accumulated bonus miles. The state's attorney determined that he had actually flown in first class and cited him for perjury, for which he was fined €20,000.[6][7][8]

Diocesan Centre St. NicholasEdit

The diocesan centre St. Nikolaus in Limburg
The Private Chapel St. Maria built 2012

In 2002, the Diocese of Limburg committed to financial austerity, cutting salaries and expenses.[9] In that context, the diocese's 2007 announcement of plans for a €6 million building renovation project was criticized by some of the laity.[10] The diocese announced it was allocating €5.5 million, with €200,000 for the bishop's apartment, €300,000 for his private chapel, €500,000 for the administrative and guest area, €2 million for the renovation of the historic walls and display of archaeological finds and €2.5 million for the rehabilitation and the sexton of the old vicarage house.[11] Years later, on 14 October 2013, as the controversy continued, the project's architect Michael Frielinghaus said that the 2010 figure of €5.5 million was always understood to be well below the true cost of the project.[12] When the building complex opened on 29 June 2013, the diocese announced that the final costs would be €9,850,000. It revised that number the next day after an internal audit committee complained that the number was totally unrealistic.[13]

In September 2013, a Vatican monitor, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, visited Limburg to hold discussions with diocesan officials. A Vatican audit of the construction project determined that the costs of the project had grown to €31 million. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chair of the German Bishops' Conference warned that the Limburg scandal was affecting the Catholic Church throughout Germany and said he would discuss that impact with Pope Francis.[14] He also set up a commission to investigate the finances of the Limburg diocese.[15] A spokesman for the Limburg diocese said Tebartz-van Elst was "concerned about the escalation of the current discussion" and that "It is obvious to the bishop that the decision on his episcopal ministry in Limburg lies in the hands of the Holy Father."[16]

Suspension and resignationEdit

On 21 October 2013, Tebartz-van Elst met in Rome with Pope Francis, just after Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, met with the Pope.[4] On 23 October 2013, Pope Francis suspended Tebartz-van Elst from the exercise of his episcopal office as Bishop of Limburg because he thought Tebartz van Elst could no longer exercise his duties as bishop. His statement noted the recent visit of the Vatican monitor and the investigation of the diocese's finances by the German Bishops. The pope named Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, with the appointment to take effect immediately.[17][18]

In January and February 2014, details of the German Bishops commission's investigation became known, including material sufficient to require an investigation by the public prosecutor,[19] including evidence of the misuse of funds.[20] The commission finalized its report on 4 March 2014.[21]

On 26 March 2014, Pope Francis accepted Tebartz-van Elst's resignation as Bishop of Limburg.[22][23][24] The Vatican statement said that a fruitful execution of a bishop's duty could no longer be expected from Tebartz-van Elst.[25]

On 28 March 2014, Tebart-van Elst met again with Pope Francis for a quarter-hour. Afterwards he told reporters that "with today's knowledge I realize I have made mistakes. Though I never intended to, I have destroyed trust."[26]

Tebartz-van Elst defended himself and remained unapologetic.[27] He said the vicar was responsible for the deteriorating situation and that when he arrived he found the diocese had "an administrative situation which was ... hardly factual and disordered". He said he wanted to invest in high-quality construction in light of earlier problems with construction projects in the diocese.[28]

After obtaining the report from the German Bishops commission, the state attorney in Limburg was examining whether Tebartz van-Elst's actions constituted a criminal offense.[29][30]

Later careerEdit

Following his resignation, Tebartz-van Elst moved to Regensburg.[31] In December 2014, he was appointed to a position in the Roman Curia beginning in March 2015 as a delegate to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, assigned to the International Council for catechesis.[32][33]

For several months in 2015, Apostolic Administrator Grothe and other officials of the Limburg diocese sought to hold Tebartz-van Elst personally liable for the construction costs. This raised legal questions that only the Vatican could resolve. In September, the Holy See announced following discussions between Grothe, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Secretariat of State, that the diocese would not initiate legal proceedings against Tebartz-van Elst.[34][35][36]


  1. ^ a b c "Bistum Limburg: Bischof". Bistum Limburg (in German). 2012. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  2. ^ Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst,, Handbook of Adult Baptism: liturgy and preaching in the catechumenate (Aschendorff Verlag, 2002)
  3. ^ Peter Krämer,, Right to religious freedom versus Mission: Christian Europe to the test (LIT Verlag Münster, 2007), including S. 154
  4. ^ a b "Limburg's "big spender" bishop meets Francis face to face". La Stampa. 21 October 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  5. ^ "Homosexuellen-Segnung: Limburger Bischof beruft Dekan ab". Der Spiegel (in German). 20 August 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Das Lügengebäude". Der Spiegel (in German). 14 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  7. ^ Williams, Carol J. (18 November 2013). "Germany's shamed 'Bishop of Bling' pays fine to settle court case". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "German 'Luxury Bishop' Tebartz-van Elst pays fine for lying under oath" (in German). Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Bistum Limburg – Sparen und Erneuern – Archiv Sparen und erneuern" (in German). Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Wir sind Kirche Deutschland" (in German). 29 December 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  11. ^ "Der Bischof zeigt sein Haus". Frankfurter Neue Presse. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  12. ^ "Bistum Limburg – Architekt belastet Bischof Tebartz-van Elst". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  13. ^ "Limburger Bischofssitz wird nochmals deutlich teurer". Die Welt.
  14. ^ "Bishop under fire for luxury residence". ABS-CBN. abs-cbnnews.Com. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  15. ^ "Germany's 'luxury bishop' makes plea to Pope Francis". BBC News. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  16. ^ "German bishop could face Vatican inquisition on lavish spending". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  17. ^ "Vatican suspends 'bishop of bling'". BBC News. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  18. ^ "Pressemotteilung des Heiligen Stuhls hinsichtlich der Diocese Limburg (Deutschland)" (Press release). 23 October 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Bericht: Untersuchung belastet Bischof Tebartz-van Elst" (in German). 9 February 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  20. ^ Skandalbischof: Kommission präsentiert Beweise,; accessed 15 August 2015.
  21. ^ "Untersuchung abgeschlossen, Bericht im VatikanPapst entscheidet über Tebartz-van Elst" (in German). German N-TV. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  22. ^ "pope interdicts return to Limburg (Protzbischof: Papst untersagt Rückkehr nach Limburg)".
  23. ^ "3D imagery of construction zones". Archived from the original on 26 March 2014.
  24. ^ "Der Papst hat entschieden: Limburg bekommt einen neuen Bischof, der umstrittene Kirchenmann Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst wird nicht zurückkehren".[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ "Vatican statement word by word". Der Spiegel (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  26. ^ "Tebartz van Elst admits to failures". German NTV. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  27. ^ "Tebartz van Elst accuses vicar general for being responsible (for the deteriorating situation)". DPA (in German). Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  28. ^ "Religion: Vicar general was responsible". Austrian Television-ORF (in German). Austrian Television-ORF. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  29. ^ "Staatsanwaltschaft prüft Limburg-Bericht". Frankfurt's Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  30. ^ "Taz:picture of vicar". Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  31. ^ "Tebartz-Wohnung 'besenrein' übergeben". Frankfurter Allgemeine. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  32. ^ Petin, Edward (9 February 2015). "Bishop Tebartz Van Elst Appointed to Pontifical Council". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  33. ^ "Bischof Tebartz-Van Elst offiziell im Vatikan". Radio Vatican (in German). 16 April 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  34. ^ "Bistum Limburg fordert Schadenersatz von Bischof Tebartz". Vatican radio (in German). 23 July 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  35. ^ "Vatikan: Staatssekretariat widerspricht BILD-Bericht". Vatican radio (in German). 13 August 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  36. ^ "Kein Schadenersatz für Bistum Limburg". Vatican radio (in German). 9 September 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015.