BERLIN (AP) — A German bishop under fire for lavish spending traveled to Rome on Sunday for talks at the Vatican, church officials said, placing his future in the hands of a pope who has espoused a simple lifestyle.
Allegations of lavish spending by the Rev. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, bishop of Limburg, have stirred controversy among Roman Catholics 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.
A spokesman for the diocese of Limburg, Martin Wind, told the German news agency dpa that Tebartz-van Elst was meeting with church officials in Rome but gave no further details. German media said he made the trip aboard a budget airline.
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 told the Bild newspaper that the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because of regulations on buildings under historical protection.
Last week, Hamburg prosecutors asked a court to levy an unspecified fine against the bishop for false testimony in a case he filed against Der Spiegel magazine, which reported he had flown first class to India to visit poor children. The bishop insisted he had flown business class.
Pope Francis himself has followed a modest lifestyle and encouraged other church leaders to do the same.
In a statement Sunday, the Limburg diocese said the bishop was "concerned about the escalation of the current discussion" and regrets the suffering of "many of the faithful in the diocese and beyond" due to the "current situation."
"It is obvious to the bishop that the decision on his episcopal ministry in Limburg lies in the hands of the Holy Father," the statement added.
German media say the controversy has split the 24 million-member Catholic community at a time when the church is struggling with diminishing numbers of followers.
"It hurts me because of the impression that wasting money is a core feature of the Church," Julia Kloeckner, deputy chairwoman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, told the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel.