German bishop accused of taking $140,000 from elderly woman's account

Cologne Cathedral Germany Credit namportnawak via Flickr CC BY NC ND 20 CNA Cologne Cathedral. | namportwawak via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

A German bishop has been relieved of all his diocesan responsibilities after being charged by prosecutors with taking more than $140,000 from an elderly woman's account.

Bishop Johannes Bündgens "left all offices" in the Diocese of Aachen following charges by state authorities in Cologne.

On Thursday, the diocese, where Bündgens has served as auxiliary bishop since his consecration in 2006, announced that prosecutors had filed charges in the district court of Kerpen on December 2.

Msgr. Andreas Frick, vicar general of the diocese, released a statement on Dec. 4 confirming that Bündgens has been accused of taking €127,000 from a 78 year-old woman alleged to be legally unable to act in her own interests. Frick also confirmed that Bündgens had been removed from all his positions in the diocese.

According to Frick, Bishop Bündgens is currently out of the country but that "there would be talks with him" as soon as he returned to the diocese.

According to court documents, the Cologne prosecutor's office opened an investigation into Bündgens in early 2018. It is alleged that the woman gave the bishop power of attorney over her bank account in late 2017 and that he transferred the funds to his own private account over a two month period.

Reports from the German bishops' conference website indicate the bishop claims to have offered her accommodation and use of a property he owned for the remainder of her life, though there was no documentation to support this.

The transfer was noticed after the subsequent court appointment of a legal guardian for the woman, who noticed the removal of the unusually large amount of money. The legal competence of the woman at the time she apparently gave the bishop power of attorney is unclear.

Canon law prevents clerics from assuming responsibility for the finances or assets of lay people unless they have the permission of the diocesan bishop.

Canon 285 §4 states that "without the permission of the local ordinary, clerics are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons… which entail an obligation of rendering an account."

Bishop Helmut Dieser, the diocesan bishop of Aachen and Bündgens' superior, said he was "shocked" by the case and has called for complete transparency on the matter. Bündgens maintains that he has since repaid the money.

In addition to his role as auxiliary bishop and episcopal vicar of Aachen, Bündgens also serves on the German bishops' conference committee on the global Church and is the chairman of the board of directors for Missio, the German international Catholic mission society. It is unclear if he has also been suspended from these roles as the case continues.

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