Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Vatican, after priests and lay Catholics accused him of personal extravagance and a lack of accountability.
Stephan Schnelle, Limburg diocesan spokesman, said that, for the bishop, “obtaining the loyalty of priests and lay Catholics will be a big problem. … but the bishop has gone through a rough time and seems quite delighted with this outcome”.
Mr Schnelle said the bishop was subject to a campaign of “lies” that started with comparisons between him and his predecessor. The spokesman told the American Catholic News Service that most Catholics in the diocese now hoped for a “positive end” to the controversy.
The 53-year-old bishop, appointed in November 2007, was accused of exorbitant spending on a diocesan centre and episcopal residence when other church premises were being closed in a structural reform.
In June Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly said the complex, whose estimated cost has tripled to around 15 million euros (£12.5 million), resembled a “monstrous luxury complex”.
The weekly also accused Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who chairs the German bishops’ marriage and family commission, of submitting a false affidavit after flying first-class for a January 2012 visit to slums in India. Prosecutors are investigating the incident.
A former Vatican nuncio, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, visited the diocese earlier this month. In a statement, the two said all bills and records for the diocesan complex would be checked and disclosed by a bishops’ conference commission, specially convened by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst.
Speaking at the close of an autumn plenary meeting in Fulda, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the bishops’ conference president, expressed support for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, adding that he counted on Limburg Diocese to find a “forward-looking approach” to its problems.