In Germany, few bishops have received as much attention as the bishop of Limburg, Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. This attention is the result of an escalation of tensions within the Diocese of Limburg, located in south-central Germany. At the heart of these tensions lie questions about the bishop’s expenses, mostly concerning the building of a new bishop’s house and a costly flight to India. Another factor is the perceived orthodoxy of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst in a liberal diocese, and his perceived lack of communication.
Last week, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst travelled to Rome to meet with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The purpose of the meeting was undisclosed, although it is assumed to have been related to the situation in the diocese.
On Saturday, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst wrote the following letter to all faithful in the Diocese of Limburg, a conciliatory gesture that will hopefully start easing the tensions:
To all the priests and deacons in the Diocese of Limburg,
To all coworkers in the pastoral care,
To all religious communities,
To all Synodal departments,
To all Catholics in the communities, pastoral areas and parishes in the Church of Limburg,
The Bishop of Limburg
31 August 2013
Dear sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Limburg,
I know that many of you, in these past days, have been concerned about the future of our diocese, that there are many unanswered question and also discontent and criticism. That is why I turn directly to you today.
It is hardly possible to answer every single question in this letter. A closer look at and review of many details concerning the costs of the new bishop’s house (Diocesan Centre St. Nicholas) will be necessary. I gladly inform you that everything will be done to answer this question as clearly as possible. And even more importantly: I want to invite you all, every single parish community in our diocese, for a visit to the Diocesan Centre St. Nicholas in Limburg and for a personal meeting with me. That is not possible within a few days, so I have to ask you for patience. It will cost time, but I gladly take that time. The bishop’s house is our common house, and it is open to you all.
Some of what has been said and written in the past few weeks has hurt me. Other things have also caused me to think and have contributed to me seeing some decisions in a different light. Looking back, I would have done some things differently. It is true, even a bishop is not immune to doubts and must be able to bear criticism.
That is why I want to especially turn towards those who are observing me from a critical distance. Let us approach one another! I appreciate your skeptical and critical questions. But even more than that, I need your trust. No Christian community can come alive where only suspicions and mistrust rule.
I have already met this week with representatives of our synodal bodies in the diocese and held many conversations. Together we have considered how we can deepen our established synodal dialogue. For the future we both need dialogue and unity. Episcopal care consists precisely of concern for this cooperation.
I ask you all in these undoubtedly difficult days for your prayer for our diocese. And also I personally need your prayer. Be assured that I also include all of you in my prayers. Let us travel the road which lies before us together, in full faith in the risen Lord. Not we, but He is at the heart. And how comforting on our way is this Word of the Lord: He is with us, always!
With heartfelt greetings and blessings
+ Dr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst
Bishop of Limburg
(Original German text available here.)
Photo credit: Martin Oeser/ddp