VATICAN CITY — The positio of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, which summarizes the life and holiness of the late TV preacher, was presented this morning to Pope Benedict XVI by Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill.
The two volumes of the positio, compiled by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, were given to the Holy Father at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Also presented were letters from cardinals and bishops from around the world written in favor of the cause.
On receiving the documents, the Pope recalled fond memories of working with Archbishop Sheen when they collaborated on mission activities and served on commissions together.
Today’s presentation is an important step in the Vatican’s process to determine whether Archbishop Sheen should be beatified and canonized.
“It’s a very hopeful sign,” said Msgr. Richard Soseman, foreign liaison of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, who was present at today’s audience. “Hopefully now the cause will proceed apace.”
The cause now moves to a group of theological consultors and cardinals to examine whether the archbishop showed “heroic virtue.” Their results will then be presented to the Holy Father, who will decide whether to formally declare Archbishop Sheen “Venerable” — the penultimate stage before beatification.
A Vatican source said it’s not possible to put a timeline on when that might happen and that “human factors” may hold back the process, as the Vatican is currently dealing with a “long list” of other positii. But he added that today’s development is an “important milestone” in the archbishop’s cause, because compiling a positiois a long and complicated process.
Assuming the archbishop is declared “Venerable,” his beatification — which requires approval of one miracle attributed to his intercession — also looks hopeful. The saints’ congregation is currently examining two cases of alleged miracles — one near Pittsburgh and the other in Peoria — whose authenticity depends on the judgment of a team of medical doctors.
Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) became well known for his preaching and especially for his work on television and radio. Due to his contribution to televised preaching, the archbishop is often referred to as one of the first televangelists. The way he made use of the media that emerged during his lifetime could make his beatification especially appropriate for today’s Church and the New Evangelization.
On a website dedicated to the archbishop’s cause, Franciscan Father Andrew Apostoli, vice postulator for the cause, noted that “America is in need of a saint like Archbishop Sheen.” He said the archbishop “brought so many people closer to Christ during his life here on earth and continues to do so even today through his many writings, television and radio shows.”
Msgr. Soseman said that the foundation’s office receives “week after week” reports of lives that have been changed even today by the late archbishop. “So it’s wonderful to take this procedural step,” he said, “but it’s also wonderful to realize that God’s activity is ever present in our lives through the intercession of those held up to be heroes of the faith for us.”
Msgr. Soseman, Father Apostoli and Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Sheen Foundation, all accompanied Bishop Jenky to today’s presentation, together with Louis Varela, chairman of the board of the foundation and fellow board member Maria Alicia Varela.
It’s not usual for the local bishop to present the positioto the Pope, but the Vatican appeared content to allow it today.
Rome correspondent Edward Pentin filed this report from the Vatican.