Pope Francis suspends spendthrift German bishop

Pope Francis, who has been pushing for humility and modesty in church affairs, sent a swift and clear message to Roman Catholics around the world yesterday, when he suspended a German bishop accused of spending millions on lavish renovations to his residence and forcing the chief administrator of the bishop's diocese into early retirement.

German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst stands suspended over accusations of lavish spending.

The 53 year old bishop of Limburg, is said to have let the renovation costs of his residence also other church buildings swell to $41 million.

The projects earned ridicule in the German news media for luxuries like a $20,000 bathtub, a $1.1 million landscaped garden as plans for an 800-square-foot fitness room - and also a cross to be suspended from the ceiling of a personal chapel, which called for the reopening of a renovated roof.

The bishop was called to Rome to explain the expenses, where he had a meeting with the pope. In a statement The Vatican said that Francis had been ''comprehensively and objectively'' informed about the events in the diocese and that bishop Tebartz-van Elst ''currently cannot exercise his office.''

According to Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian and the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, a liberal Catholic research institute in Bologna, Italy, the decision signalled that the pope deemed pastoral life and moral examples important, not an accessory.

The Vatican did not specify how long bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst would spend away from the diocese of Limburg.

However, it added Limburg's newly named vicar general, the reverend Wolfgang Roesch, would run the diocese during Tebartz-van Elst's "period of time away."

Roesch had been due to assume office Tebartz-van Elst's deputy on 1 January but would start running the diocese immediately, according to the Vatican.

An audit of the spending undertaken following the visit of a Vatican monitor to Limburgh last month revealed that there were huge cost overruns in the project, which  earned for Tebartz-van Elst the appellations of ''the luxry bishop'' and ''bishop bling,'' Reuters reported.

In his defence, Elst said the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs due to regulations on buildings under historical protection.

The Limburg scandal had hit the front pages of newspapers in the country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church.

The issue pertaining to transparency of church finances has also struck a chord among German Catholics after church tax in Germany brought in billions of dollars a year to the German church.