The case of a German bishop who has been charged with embezzling from an elderly woman could accelerate the debate over abuses of clerical power in the Church, a German canon lawyer has said.

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The Diocese of Aachen announced Thursday that auxiliary bishop Johannes Bündgens was suspended from office after being accused of defrauding 127,000 euros from an elderly woman no longer in possession of her faculties.

The case against Bündgens comes at a crucial time for the German Church, which has set the revision of the exercise of power and authority in the Church as one of the four main focuses of the two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process it began December 1.

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Explaining that rank-and-file Catholics must be protected from crime at all costs, canon lawyer Thomas Schüller told WDR 5 at the weekend that the Bündgens affair confirmes “the general suspicion that clerics often use their power to their own advantage”.

Schüller explained that beyond the criminal charges he faces, the auxiliary bishop apparently also violated canon law by taking money from the elderly woman and putting in a personal account.

Canon 285 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law states that “without the permission of their ordinary, [clerics] are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons or secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts”.

To judge from Aachen diocesan statements, that permission, in Bündgen’s case, was not forthcoming from either current Bishop Helmut Dieser or from Dieser’s predecessor, Heinrich Mussinghoff.

In a statement, Dieser said he was “shocked” by the accusations against Bündgens, and asked authorities to clear up the matter with haste.

Bündgens himself, who was overseas at the time of his suspension, has promised to collaborate fully with inquiries.

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