German "luxury bishop" settles with court over 1st class flight-to-poverty case

Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:38am EST
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BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court has dropped for the time being an investigation into a Roman Catholic prelate known as the "luxury bishop" over accusations he lied under oath about taking a first-class flight to visit poverty projects in India.

State prosecutors had sought to have Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg fined for making false affidavits about the flight, but the court accepted a 20,000-euro settlement.

The bishop has also been under scrutiny over separate revelations that he let costs for his new residence in Limburg run to 31 million euros, over six times the original estimate, triggering calls for his resignation.

Last month Pope Francis ordered him to leave his diocese while an investigation and audit into high costs were conducted.

In the case of the flight, prosecutors were investigating whether Tebartz-van Elst had lied under oath when he denied a report in Der Spiegel news magazine that he flew first-class to India to visit poverty projects.

Tebartz-van Elst, 53, said he flew business class. But Der Spiegel made public a mobile phone video recording of a conversation which triggered action by prosecutors in Hamburg.

"The criminal proceedings against the Bishop of Limburg have been suspended provisionally in exchange for 20,000 euros," the Hamburg court said in a statement.

The decision had the consent of the state prosecutors, it said.

The Vatican sent an envoy in September to investigate protests in the diocese. Pope Francis then banished Tebartz-van Elst from his diocese on October 23 for spending so much of Church funds at a time when the pontiff is stressing austerity.   Continued...

File photo of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's residence and his private chapel (2ndR) are pictured in Limburg October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach