Tebartz-van Elst preaches to his flock to sate their thirst with water not wine. "Renewal begins where the efforts toward making due with less are made," he has instructed them. "The person of faith is dirt poor and rich in mercy," he once said in a Christmas sermon. And on the Assumption, he declared: "Whoever experiences poverty in person will discover the true greatness of God."
Meanwhile, funds are tight or insufficient across the diocese. There isn't enough money for the upkeep of churches, parishes are being consolidated and funding for Catholic day care centers is being slashed. All of this is part of the bishop's tough cost-cutting measures.
Ever since construction on the bishop's complex began and the extent of his ambitions became known, the atmosphere among Limburg's Catholics has been poisoned. Indeed, the contradictions between the bishop's words and his lifestyle have enraged many believers. One member of the cathedral's choir loudly voiced her anger immediately after a mass. "Many church communities don't know where they are going to get the money to pay to heat their churches next winter or to make urgently needed repairs to their church roofs," she said.
In the bishop's new complex, however, hardly any wish has gone unmet. Still, the congregation hasn't been able to learn much about the luxurious residence, which bears the humble name of the St. Nicolas Diocese Center.
Men in red T-shirts immediately appear whenever one approaches the construction site. "No photos!" they warn passersby, even though one can still make out very little from behind the high brick wall.
Workers on the mystery-enshrouded construction site keep quiet as if they'd been forced to swear a vow of silence. Members of Limburg's building board haven't even been allowed to take a quick look at everything. And county council officials haven't been able to check on any of the rumors that have been circulating in the city. Taken together, these hold that the complex boasts dedicated rooms for reliquaries, a sauna, a fireplace, a wine cellar, gemstone detailing, statues of holy figures and a heatable roof that can protect the bishop's private chapel from snow and ice.
The magnificent estate can only be seen from outside from a nearby balcony. But the woman with access to the balcony seems intimidated when asked about it. Certain "gentlemen," she says, have strictly forbidden her to allow interested visitors access to the balcony.
The bishop says he knows nothing about all this secretiveness. He says he didn't order it, that it doesn't exist. Speaking through his lawyer, he adds: "There is nothing to hide on the construction site." The document goes on to say that there will be no sauna, wine cellar or precious stones, and that the heatable roof had only been "contemplated" for safety reasons, but will not be installed.
Nothing But the Best Tebartz-van Elst's predecessor, Franz Kamphaus, lived in a markedly different way. He once moved into modest lodgings in a seminary for priests so that asylum-seekers could be housed in the bishop's residence. Although the elements of the new property are built close together, the current bishop will still have plenty of space for contemplation and ostentation. Indeed, the difference between a shepherd who is close to his flock and a church dignitary enamored of his status could not be greater.