VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis temporarily expelled a German bishop from his diocese on Wednesday because of a scandal over a 31-million-euro project to build a new residence complex, but refused popular calls to remove him.
The Vatican didn't say how long Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst would spend away from the diocese of Limburg. But it said Limburg's newly named vicar general, the Rev. Wolfgang Roesch, would run the diocese during Tebartz-van Elst's “period of time away.”
Roesch had been due to take up his duties as Tebartz-van Elst's deputy on Jan. 1 but will start running the dioceses immediately, the Vatican said.
In a statement, the Vatican said the situation in the diocese had become such that Tebartz-van Elst “could no longer exercise his episcopal ministry.”
The decision was taken after Francis met in the past week with Tebartz-van Elst and the head of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.
At the center of the controversy is the 31-million-euro ($42 million) price tag for the construction of a new bishop's residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst has said the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because of regulations on buildings under historical protection.
The Limburg scandal has been front-page news for weeks in the country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church. The issue over transparency in church finances has also struck a chord among German Catholics since a church tax in Germany brings in billions of euros a year to the German church.
The Vatican stressed that Francis took the decision based on continuous and “objective” information, suggesting that the Vatican wasn't being swayed by the popular outcry over the scandal.