Oct 25, 2013

Bishops Behaving Badly

Catholic bishops are making headlines again and not in a good way. This week saw the suspension the "Bishop of Bling." It's a decisive action from the new pope that shows him actually putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak. One hopes it is a harbinger of things to come and that Pope Francis will start backing up more of his lovely rhetoric with decisions that reflect it. For a pope who seems to take the vow of poverty very seriously, the German bishop is downright embarrassing.

When Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany traveled to India last year to minister to poor slum dwellers, he reportedly flew first class.

This year, renovations of the Roman Catholic bishop's church-owned residence in the city of Limburg ran massively over budget to cover $620,000 worth of artwork, $1.1 million in landscaping and last-minute design revisions -- $42 million in all, billed to the Vatican and German taxpayers, Hamburg's tabloid daily Bild reported.

Dubbed the "Bishop of Bling" by European media that have been avidly tracking the bespectacled clergyman's lavish lifestyle, Tebartz-van Elst was suspended from his post by Pope Francis on Wednesday in a clear sign that the new pontiff is serious about diverting resources from the "princes of the church" to the paupers in its congregations.

Because Tebartz-van Elst is a bishop in Germany, there's more to this case than the obvious hypocrisy. For Germans, donations to their church aren't voluntary. Germany does not separate church and state and German church-goers pay taxes to support their churches.

In Germany, churches are largely funded by taxes – there is no direct prohibition between mixing Church and State as there is in the United States. The origins of the so-called “church tax” can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

Here’s how the “church tax” or Kirchensteuer works: taxpayers register affiliation with a church or religious group on a Lohnsteuerkarte (kind of like a form W-2). Registration indicates where and how much tax you’ll pay: the rate is 9% for Catholic and Protestant churches in most of the country with a slightly lower rate of 8% in the heavily Catholic states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (a similar tax, the Kultussteuer, applies to the Jewish community). If you aren’t a member of a church, you can apply to opt out of the tax – but prepare to prove that you’re actually avoiding church and not taxes. It will also cost you money if you want to leave the church: you have to register and pay a fee (depending on the location, it can run about $50). Failure to pay the tax, however, doesn’t come without consequences: if you don’t pay into the Catholic Church, you may not receive sacraments (except before death), work in a church or church-related entity (including hospitals) or serve as a godparent; it’s very nearly like excommunication though the Catholic Church really doesn’t like to use the word.

Why all of the pressure to pay into the system? The tax is a lucrative source of income for churches in the country. In 2013, the Catholic Church alone collected €5.2 billion ($7.18 billion US) in church taxes. The revenue is thought to represent nearly 70% of church funding inside Germany – though the numbers are a bit clouded due to a lack of financial transparency.

Such legally compelled tithing definitely ups the ante when a steward of the church is caught soaking in a $20,000 bathtub.

In another case of mind-melting hypocrisy, it was revealed earlier this month that a Bishop who resigned in July, over the paternity of a child, pleaded with the birth mother to have an abortion. As the Catholic Church tirelessly drives global policies on abortion and birth control that result in staggering maternal death rates all over the third world -- not to mention Ireland -- a bishop in Peru not only, violated celibacy rules and knocked a woman up, but then begged her to break that country's laws.

Ex-Bishop Guillermo Abanto has officially recognized the paternity of the two-year-old daughter he fathered with a young woman that he met though his work as a priest.

. . .

However, Alexandra Daniela de la Lama, the child’s mother, has also come forward with unflattering details about the case. De la Lama alleges that Abanto asked her to abort the pregnancy, telling television program Punto Final, “Yes, he asked me not just one, but several times. He said ‘Are you sure you want to have it, that you don’t want to have an abortion?’”

Abortion is illegal in Peru except in cases where the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy. Furthermore, abortion is prohibited by the doctrines of the Catholic church.

So why was a sitting bishop so willing to dispense with a central doctrine of his faith? Well, the whole thing was just so bloody inconvenient and it might have forced him to actually make changes in his own life. De la Lama explained.

"When I got pregnant, he began to mourn, he did not know what to do. I expected him to drop everything and take responsibility. But he screamed at me and said 'You're crazy! So, stop being a priest, marry you, and live with you?!' So, I decided to find another solution", Lama further disclosed.

Bitches, man. They slow a playuh down.

Meanwhile, another Peruvian bishop was removed due to sex abuse allegations.

Gabino Miranda, auxiliary bishop in Ayacucho, Peru, has been removed from his post after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused children. Little is known at this point about the nature or number of the accusations, but church officials have confirmed to the press that Miranda’s dismissal was the result of allegations of sex abuse.

Bishop Emeritus of Chimbote Luis Bambarén told RPP Noticias that the swift action by church authorities can be credited to Pope Francis strict policies on sex abuse scandals: “It’s what the pope said— zero tolerance […] Those are very serious crimes, especially when it has to do with a bishop.”

By Vatican standards, that's beyond swift. It's the rough equivalent of breaking the sound barrier. So once again I am guardedly optimistic that Pope Francis may be really serious about change. It should come as no great surprise that such a proactive response to an accused pedophile has resulted in some grumbling.

It is heartening to see that Pope Francis is holding bishops to account on some of the issues that matter to the little people -- almost as heartening as it is annoying to see that some of the Vatican's harshest punishments are still reserved for those clergy who support women's and glbt rights.

An Australian priest vocal in his support of women's ordination has become the first person excommunicated for such beliefs under the papacy of Pope Francis.

Fr. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia, told NCR by email late Monday night his initial reaction was "shock" upon learning of his separation from the church. Australian media have reported he is the first member of the Melbourne archdiocese excommunicated and the first priest from the area laicized for reasons other than pedophilia.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.