Pope holds crisis talks on fate of Germany's 'luxury bishop'

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis held crisis talks on Thursday on the fate of Germany's "luxury bishop" who is under intense pressure to resign for spending some 31 million euros on an ultra-luxurious residence.

The pope, who has tried to set an example of austerity by renouncing the spacious papal apartments for a small residence in a Vatican guest house, held talks with Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German bishops' conference.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg in western Germany has stirred anger and calls for his resignation among German Catholics and media over huge cost overruns on his residence at a time when Pope Francis is stressing humility and serving the poor.

"All sides are interested in finding a good and rapid solution so that the situation in the diocese of Limburg can be settled and we can find a way out of this difficult situation," Zollitsch told reporters after his meeting with the pope.

Tebartz-van Elst, who has apologised for any "carelessness or misjudgment on my part" but denies wrongdoing, is in Rome waiting to be called to meet the pope and is believed to have met in Rome with Zollitsch, one of the highest ranking figures in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.

Zollitsch, speaking to reporters outside a residence near the Vatican, said an audit commission would begin work on Friday to investigate what has become a major embarrassment for the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.

The German media has dubbed Tebartz-van Elst "the luxury bishop" after an initial audit of his spending, ordered after a Vatican monitor visited Limburg last month, revealed the project cost at least 31 million euros, six times more than planned.

Tebartz-van Elst, whose baroque style was more in line with the conservative model of Roman Catholicism projected by retired German-born Pope Benedict, has also been accused by German magistrates of lying under oath about a first-class flight to visit poverty programmes in India.

German media, citing official documents, said the residence had been fitted with a free-standing bath that cost 15,000 euros, a conference table that cost 25,000 euros and a private chapel that cost 2.9 million euros..

Zollitsch said earlier this week that Tebartz-van Elst should examine his conscience over the crisis he has caused in the German Church and the image problem he has presented for the pope, who has told bishops not to live like "princes".

(Reporting By Philip Pullella and James Mackenzie; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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