Finance scandal spurs German Catholic bishops to reveal secret funds
German Catholic bishops are scrapping centuries of secrecy and reporting the value of their private endowments as a scandal caused by a free-spending prelate puts pressure on them for more financial transparency.
Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – dubbed “the luxury bishop” – has shocked the Church by admitting six-fold cost overruns on construction of his luxurious new residence, which is now priced at 31 million euros, most of which will be paid from his ample reserves.
His lavish spending clashes with the humble style of Pope Francis, who urges bishops to turn away from wealth and pomp and get closer to the faithful. Francis has also promised to clean up the murky finances of the Vatican’s own bank.
The Limburg scandal has also prompted worried German Catholics to ask what their dioceses were doing.
“We take these concerns very seriously,” Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer said in a communique revealing his 46.5 million euro reserve.
German dioceses have secret reserves called the “bishop’s chair” known only to the bishop and a few advisors. Run as a diocesan nest egg and source of funds for special projects, they are not taxed and not listed in the annual balance sheets.
In some older dioceses, “bishop’s chair” reserves include age-old property holdings, donations from former princely rulers and funds from German states over the past two centuries. Their make-up and value vary widely from diocese to diocese.