‘Bling Bishop’ a classic case of Vatican’s ‘Ironic Employment Division’


June 28, 2019

By John L. Allen Jr.

In “The Simpsons,” the annual Halloween episodes are known for their spoofs of the supernatural. Back in 1993, one of my favorites featured a vision of Hell, where the legendarily donut-loving Homer has been assigned to the “Ironic Punishment Division.” He’s tethered to a chair as a machine force-feeds him pastry after pastry.

(Homer appears delighted, mumbling “more please!” after each mouthful, leading a frustrated demon to say: “I don’t understand it … James Coco went mad in 15 minutes!”)

I thought of that episode this week, speaking to a visiting clergyman who was astonished to discover that German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst – better known to the world as the “Bling Bishop,” whose exuberant spending in the Diocese of Limburg in 2013 caused such a furor that he was granted a “sabbatical” by the newly-elected Pope Francis – is actually now a Vatican official.

My cleric friend recently attended a meeting in the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, where Tebartz-van-Elst led the discussion. He said he spent a few minutes trying to figure out where he’d heard the name before, until realization dawned: “My God, he’s the bishop of bling!”

Welcome to the “Ironic Employment Division” in Pope Francis’s Vatican.

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