In Germany, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst of Limburg is known as “Bishop DeLuxe.”
Renovations to his official residence near Frankfurt reportedly cost more than $40 million, including $475,000 for walk-in closets, $20,000 for the bishop’s bathtub plus a heated roof for his private chapel.
The Frankfurt Allgemeine newspaper ran a cartoon on its front page imagining a bowling alley, a holy water reprocessing plant as well as a printing press to pay for it all. German Catholics were not amused.
The bishop’s fancy lifestyle might not have been so out of place under Pope Benedict, the recently retired German pontiff who favored expensive vestments, designer red leather shoes and other elegant trappings of office.
But such frills are sharply at odds with Pope Francis, who now says Catholicism must strip itself of “vanity, arrogance and pride.”
On Sunday, Bishop Tebartz van Elst flew to Rome to account for himself as protesters gathered at his new, lavish residence.
The new pope famously has been known to drive his own car – he owns several old jalopies, including a Ford Focus and a nearly 30-year old papal white Renault 4 given to him by an Italian parish priest. Pope Francis has caught rides on the bus with the cardinals. He carries his own bags and has declined to live in the lavish papal apartments.
Pope Francis has also urged the Church to follow his example.
In a pilgrimage to Assisi, the birthplace of his namesake saint, this month, he admonished: “All of us should divest ourselves of worldliness. … Because it kills souls, kills people, kills the Church.”
For Sunday’s trip, the Bishop DeLuxe did not fly first class, as he recently did on Lufthansa, traveling to India to minister to the poor. This time, he flew economy class on Ryanair, a discount airline.