In Francis’ footsteps

  • October 31, 2013

The case of Germany’s “luxury bishop” underscores that Pope Francis is someone who says what he means and means what he says.

Consider a chronology of events starting Oct. 21. On that morning, the Pope gave a homily about the ruinous power of money. The next day, he met with a German bishop accused of living in opulence. The following day, he expelled the bishop from his diocese pending an investigation into extravagant spending. And on the fourth day the Pope ordained two new bishops with instructions to serve, not be served.

A coincidental sequence? Perhaps. But the more we see of Pope Francis, the more we see someone determined to make the Church shape up.

Dubbed the “luxury bishop” by German media, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst became a lightning rod following reports of affluent living, unauthorized spending and giving false court testimony. He is under investigation by Church experts in canon law, finance and construction. Central to the scandal is an alleged, unauthorized $42-million facelift of the bishop’s residence and offices.

From the first moments of his papacy, Pope Francis has sought a Church that “is poor and for the poor.” To authentically proclaim Christ’s message, Francis believes bishops and priests must walk physically and spiritually beside their flocks or, as he says, have the smell of sheep. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he took a modest apartment and cooked for himself. In the Vatican, he shunned the grand papal apartments to live modestly in residence. So it’s easy to envision his dismay at photographs of Tebartz-van Elst’s elegant home inside a walled-off compound.

Addressing priests and nuns in July, the Pope said it “hurts my heart” to see an ordained person with a pricey car or expensive smartphone. Live humble lives, he urged, because joy is not found in material possessions. He expects all ordained people to maintain simple lifestyles. It is the example he sets and certainly expects of his bishops.

A day before meeting with Tebartz-van Elst, the Pope gave a homily about greed. He didn’t mention the wayward bishop, but his words seemed apropos to the situation. Francis decried “the idol of gold” and said that walking a path of poverty helps the faithful find God.

“When a person is attached to money he destroys himself,” the Pope said. Chasing luxury cultivates greed and, the Pope added, “greed is an instrument of idolatry” that causes people to “play God out of vanity.”

The next morning, ordaining the first two bishops of his pontificate, the Pope told them the office of bishop is about service, not honour. “It is the bishop’s responsibility to serve rather than to dominate,” he said. It went without saying that the Church is no place for a luxury bishop.

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