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Embattled German 'luxury bishop' faces legal trouble

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Pressure grew Thursday on a German Roman-Catholic bishop under fire for building an extravagant multi-million-euro residential complex when prosecutors alleged that he also lied under oath.

Embattled Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, of Limburg in Hesse state is accused of giving false statements in court in a case centred on a first-class flight he took to India to visit poor communities.

Prosecutors allege the bishop twice gave false statements under oath in a Hamburg court battle against news weekly Der Spiegel when he denied having told the magazine's journalist that he flew only business class.

If found guilty, he would likely face a fine.

The case adds to pressure on the bishop after laymen and clergy have voiced anger this week at his lavish spending on his ostentatious new bishop's residence, where costs have ballooned to more than 31 million euros ($40 million).

Critics within and outside the church have contrasted the costly architectural project with the more humble style of Pope Francis and asked how much good the money could do if used as aid in poverty-stricken African countries.

The Vatican sent an envoy, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, last month to investigate after protests in his diocese have grown louder over the years. Germany's bishops conference has also said it is auditing the diocese finances.

Tebartz-van Elst defended the costly project in the top-selling Bild daily, saying the centuries-old hilltop cathedral complex adjacent to the modernist new structure is heritage protected, complicating the project.

"I understand that the high cost of 31 million euros sounds frightening," he told Bild's Thursday edition, adding: "Those who know me know that I don't have a pompous lifestyle."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131010/embattled-german-luxury-bishop-faces-legal-trouble