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Rev. Christy Thomas: The $20,000 bathtub and the faux apology

OK, so this German Roman Catholic bishop, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, spends the equivalent of about $43 million on his residential compound.

Necessities included a chapel, a museum (and the proper artwork to grace it), a series of private apartments, and the piece de resistance, a bathtub that reportedly cost about $20,000. All done without accountability and from church funds — donated funds. Donated, given, pulled from the pockets of the faithful.

Unfortunately for this important man, it has been discovered that he may have flown first class to India in order to visit the poor there. That revelation led to a greater investigation of his activities.

Now, this good man insists he only flew business class, which is far less luxurious, but for those of us peons who have flown overseas in steerage, those folks in business class look like they’ve got it pretty darn good.

According to news reports, he has now been summoned to the Vatican to discuss this tiny case of clergy indulgence. Reportedly, he flew Ryanair to Italy.

In case you are not familiar with Ryanair, it is the lowest of the low-budget airlines. It is also a great way to get around Europe if no amenities are needed. Anything extra (including bringing luggage or printing a boarding pass) costs a bundle.

At one point, the head of Ryanair contemplated removing the rear toilets from the planes for extra seating, but apparently changed his mind. I guess the ratio of 200 seats to one toilet got a little too challenging to contemplate. Makes one almost pity this poor beleaguered bishop on such a flight.

But, bless him — he has apologized for “any carelessness or misjudgment.”

Let me rephrase that apology: “Please forgive me for indulging in the greatest of personal luxury while stomping on the hands of the poor I dearly and clearly love. Just think of the number of housemaids I will employ to care for my mansion and make sure my bathtub is scrubbed regularly! I might even import some of those women from India to help out!”

What a sick non-apology.

I am working with the teens of the church now, teaching them the basics so they can move onto confirming their faith, claiming it as their own. We’ve been talking about the universal human tendency to blame others and do whatever is necessary to avoid any personal responsibility for our wrong deeds.

Since most of the youth have siblings, and since most siblings engage in frequent battles, I asked them to think about the words they use if forced to make an apology when caught in bad behavior.

Across the board, they responded with something like this, “I’m sorry for what I did but if you had not … ” and then the apology itself disappears in the litany of blaming others.

In the dear, indulged bishop’s case, he employed more the subtle tactic of deflection. He minimizes the seriousness of the charges by indicating he is guilty only of simple misjudgment.

Again, let me rephrase other deflections we have heard: “Oh yeah, my immoral and reprehensible sexual actions with (name one: children, people other than spouse, secretary, intern, etc.) were just simple errors in judgment. I can’t understand why you [ignorant, unsophisticated] people make a big deal about it.”

Do you see it? By implication, the indignation that many feel after the revelations are the fault of the hearers, not the perpetrator of the acts. “Really, folks — lighten up! Just because I stole massive amounts of money that should have gone to the relief of the poor and have lived in unimaginable luxury on those funds is no big deal. Quit making a federal case out of this.”

And there we have it: the polar opposite of a repentant heart, the kind of heart that God welcomes and celebrates.

The worst of religious practice exposed yet once more. Will we ever learn?

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or