NEW YORK — Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s sainthood cause came to an abrupt stop Wednesday over allegations the Archdiocese of New York reneged on agreements over where to locate Archbishop Sheen’s body, thereby torpedoing the process.
A Sept. 3 news release from the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., whose Bishop Daniel Jenky is president of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, announced that 12 years of work to make Archbishop Sheen a canonized saint was now relegated indefinitely to the archives of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“The bishop is heartbroken not only for his flock in Peoria, but also for the many supporters of the Sheen cause from throughout the world who have so generously supported Peoria’s efforts,” it said.
The beloved U.S. televangelist’s cause passed several major hurdles this year with the approval of a miracle by both medical advisers in March and theologians in June. The miracle required only the approval of a panel of cardinals and then Pope Francis in order for Archbishop Sheen to go through the beatification process.
But the beatification process cannot be completed without examining the remains of the candidate for sainthood. The diocese’s news release stated that the Vatican expected the body of Archbishop Sheen to be transferred from his tomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York back to the Diocese of Peoria for the official inspection and taking of first-class relics.
The Archdiocese of New York, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is now refusing the request, according to the Sept. 3 news release, putting an end to Sheen’s cause for the foreseeable future.
But the Diocese of Peoria stated it had obtained assurances from the New York Archdiocese of its cooperation.
“Countless supporters, especially from the local Church in Central Illinois, have given their time, treasure and talent for this good work with the clear understanding that the body of Venerable Sheen would return to the diocese,” the statement said.
“Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time.”
Issue Arose Earlier
The Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria, however, have been involved in this dispute before. Back in 2010, Archbishop Sheen’s cause ground to a halt over the dispute of which diocese would have custody of the body. Back then, the archdiocese was also charged with having broken verbal commitments to allow Peoria to have the body.
Both Peoria and New York have different claims on Archbishop Sheen: Peoria was the archbishop’s boyhood home, where he was ordained a priest and briefly served as a pastor. New York, however, is where Archbishop Sheen was ordained a bishop and became a famous televangelist with his Life Is Worth Living program. Transferring Archbishop Sheen’s body to Peoria could enable the diocese to create a national shrine to him there. However, that would leave an empty tomb for Archbishop Sheen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
But the archdiocese’s latest intervention this late in the process — as opposed to four years ago, when Archbishop Sheen had no verified miracle — has generated substantial dismay and confusion.
Bonnie Engstrom, whose now completely healthy son James Fulton was the stillborn baby allegedly healed by a miracle through Archbishop Sheen’s intercession, expressed frustration at the announcement on her blog, AKnottedLife.com.
“We had every reason to hope that James’ alleged miracle of being brought back to life and full health after being dead for over an hour would soon be approved by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and then the Holy Father, thus allowing for Sheen’s beatification to occur,” she wrote. “We feel very strongly that James’ story and the life and writings of Fulton Sheen contain an awesome potential to change hearts, bring souls to Christ and glorify almighty God. It is a shame that this good work has been brought to a standstill by the Archdiocese of New York.”
The Register contacted Cardinal Dolan’s spokesman for more information and has been told a statement will be forthcoming.
Postulator: Suspension Will Be Temporary
The postulator for Archbishop Sheen’s cause in Rome expressed confidence that the dispute between Peoria and New York will only be a temporary obstacle.
The office of Andrea Ambrosi told Catholic News Agency that the archbishop’s postulator is “aware of the issue regarding the transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains but does not believe that this will be a lasting impediment.”
It added that Ambrosi expects “the suspension of the cause will be temporary, since there are many people still committed to this cause and the beatification of Archbishop Sheen.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register’s Washington correspondent.
Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.