German 'luxury bishop' says meeting with Pope heartening

VATICAN CITY/BERLIN Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:12pm EDT

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's residence and his private chapel (2ndR) are pictured in Limburg October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's residence and his private chapel (2ndR) are pictured in Limburg October 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

VATICAN CITY/BERLIN (Reuters) - A German bishop under pressure to resign for spending around 31 million euros ($42 million) on a luxurious residence said he had been heartened by a private audience with Pope Francis in Rome on Monday.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg arrived in Rome more than a week ago after cost overruns on his residence stirred anger among German Catholics and protests outside his cathedral, at a time when the pontiff is stressing the importance of humility and serving the poor.

A statement released by Limburg diocese said the bishop was "grateful for the very heartening meeting". It added: "He and the pope agreed the tenor and contents of their meeting would remain confidential."

The Vatican gave no details about the meeting, merely announcing it on the pope's daily list of audiences.

The media in Germany has dubbed Tebartz-van Elst "the luxury bishop" or "bishop bling" after an initial audit of his spending, ordered after a Vatican monitor visited Limburg last month, revealed the project cost at least six times more than planned.

Tebartz-van Elst has apologized for any "carelessness or misjudgment on my part" but denies wrongdoing.

The pope has tried to set an example of austerity by renouncing the spacious papal apartments for a small residence in a Vatican guest house. He has also told bishops not to live "like princes".

(Reporting By Philip Pullella in Rome and Alexandra Hudson in Berlin)