It seems that Pope Francis is determined to stir things up in the Vatican and his church. This week the German Bishops Conference is in session and has many things on its agenda which, even a few years ago, would not have been even allowable for discussion. Perhaps even mere months ago would not have even been mentioned. It is refreshing to hear and read that they are reviewing the way they deal with divorce and remarriage, and it is even more interesting that they are even talking about, perhaps, maybe, some day soon, talkig about women in the Diaconate and possibly ...
One can't help but wonder where all those who fled the Anglican Church for Rome because they can't accept women in Ministry, will go next. The Orthodox Churches?
In the news at the moment in Germany is the Bishop of Limburg, an academic appointed by Benedict XVI, and someone who genuinely seems to think that, as Bishop, he is the sole dictator in his Diocese. The reason he's currently there though, is the runaway costs incurred in the building of his new headquarters, a combination of offices, apartments and a small conference centre. It is worth noting that it is being created inside the shell of a historic building, and that creates a few costly problems in itself. They don't really have a choice in this, the Dom and its adjoining buildings are all "heritage" and the Dom dominates the Old Town of Limburg - so the outline and the appearance of any building is of national and international interest.
The problem is that the costs were supposed to be around €2 million. That was bad enough, but it rapidly became €10 million. A couple of months ago, the country was shocked by the announcement that the cost had actually topped €20 million. That brought a Cardinal diplomat from Rome to try and stop what was rapidly becoming an outright rebellion against the Bishop and his supporters on one hand, and those who felt very strongly about his high handed approach, his spending money lavishly on his "HQ" while closing churches and cutting clergy numbers. The Bishops' Conference agreed to carry out a review of the costs and the actual works - and this week dropped a real bombshell.
Costs have spiralled to an astonishing €31 million ... The Vatican is now seriously worried.
As an ex-church warden for an ancient and historic buildig, I am all too aware of just how quickly costs can spiral when one attempts any work in a heritage environment. It's one reason I am no longer a supporter of English Heritage or National Trust. In Britain, unlike Europe, churches get nothing from the government toward maintaining their buildings, part of the nations heritage and culture. It all has to be raised by the congregation, but English Heritage, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the government itself, all want to direct it and what may be done. Their intervention frequently increases costs astronomically - but they don't have to pay it, so no worries there. Something similar seems to have happened here. The bishop's people have actually spent the money using high quality materials and seem to have created a very appropriate building within the historic shell. The quality of the materials used will ensure it lasts, but the cost is phenomenal.
Rome is right to be concerned, ultimately they are picking up the tab, not the Limburg Diocese, but Rome gets its money from the people in the pews. The Bishops here are appalled by the cost of this project. As one has said, with all the really important things they need to discuss and to convey to the people, this is a distraction they don't need.
Hopefully the lesson has been learned, certainly the Bishop of Limburg has a few questions to answer. It appears he'll be visiting Rome again soon to 'discuss' the issue with his bosses. Rome also has its problems, and the Pope has flung open the doors where John XXIII opened a window. Nothing happens fast in Rome, but, as I wrote earlier, now they are talking about discussing women in ministry, married priests and the admission of divrcees to the Communion. One step at a time, one tentative exploration at a time. It will be interesting to see how this develops from here.
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