This week saw two incidents in which Pope Francis flexed his muscles: cracking the whip on divorced Catholics who might be getting too comfortable, and lately in putting a German bishop out of business. I mean--exile, really?
The Vatican reporter who posted this story is once more Nicole Winfield, along with Geir Moulson, a church official in Germany. Daniela Petroff also contributed to it. The story says:
"Pope Francis expelled a German bishop from his diocese on Wednesday pending the outcome of a church inquiry into his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex.
"The Vatican didn't say how long Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, would spend away from the diocese of Limburg but it refused calls to remove him permanently. It gave no information on where he would go or what he would do.
"The Vatican said the bishop was leaving pending the outcome of a German church investigation into the expenditures and his role in the affair. Fellow bishops and lay Catholics in the diocese, however, expressed doubt that he would ever be able to return.
"'This is a crisis of confidence that will be hard to overcome,' said the dean of the cathedral chapter, Guenther Geis.
"Limburg's vicar general, the Rev. Wolfgang Roesch, who had been due to start Jan. 1, will instead begin work immediately and will run the diocese during Tebartz-van Elst's absence, the Vatican said.
"At the center of the controversy is the huge price tag for the construction of a new bishop's residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst has defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection."
This is bound to be a story popular with critics of organized religion. The excesses, financial and otherwise, of a European bishop living the good life behind the doors of his "humble" residence, have blown up in his face. And it seems that Pope Francis is learning that he can crack down on what we might call liberal Catholics if he balances those bullying sessions with something that will look good to critics of the Catholic Church's vast wealth and power.
But it doesn't cut any ice with me. It looks like Francis just loves his power, and he intends to use it. Sweeten up intimidation and hypocrisy with a little poverty, chastity and obedience, that's the ticket. But I can leave the Catholic Church to itself, mired in hypocrisy and trying desperately to direct attention away from the gargantuan, generations-long, covered-up disgrace of child abuse. Will Francis succeed in deterring the critics who are pursuing justice in American civil courts? I doubt it.
I also noticed a telling remark in the story suggesting that Francis uses his own example as a poor Franciscan priest to remonstrate with the German bishop who was living high on the hog. This is a very dangerous sign, in my opinion, that Francis is about to embark on his own personal crusade for sainthood. And why not? The Catholic Church is selling sainthood cheap these days, sainting Popes right and left. And at the same time an Australian priest who merely supported inclusion for women and gays is excommunicated. If you can't figure out where Francis' priorities are, I don't think I can tell you.