PEORIA, Ill. — On the evening of June 8, the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, announced that earlier in the day the Supreme Court of New York had ruled for the second time in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham and her petition to move Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s body from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.
Bishop Daniel Jenky, bishop of Peoria and promoter of the cause for canonization of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, made the announcement “with great joy,” according to an official statement.
The new ruling and order, to move Sheen’s body from New York to Peoria, comes after the Appellate Court of New York remanded the case, following the first decision in Cunningham’s favor back to the Supreme Court for an evidentiary hearing and a new ruling.
The evidentiary hearing was required to examine differing testimony between key witnesses. The first ruling by Supreme Court Judge Arlene Bluth was also in favor of 90-year-old Cunningham, who had petitioned the court to allow her to transfer the remains of her uncle Fulton Sheen to Peoria so that his canonization cause could proceed.
In today’s decision, Judge Bluth found that “everyone at the hearing testified that Archbishop Sheen, a devout Catholic, would definitely want to be named a saint because it would help him continue to serve man and God and Catholics all around the globe for generations and generations.”
Weighing testimony from both sides, Judge Bluth determined, “It follows that Archbishop Sheen would care much less about the location of his earthly remains than his ability, as a saint, to continue to serve man and God on a grand scale after his earthly demise.”
“Mrs. Cunningham has offered a sound reason and a laudable purpose for her petition,” she said.
The judge communicated the disinterest of the court regarding whether Sheen should be a saint, or whether he actually becomes a saint: “Those are issues for the Roman Catholic Church to consider,” she stated.
The case was remanded for Judge Bluth’s reconsideration because the appellate court noted discrepancies existed between testimony by Cunningham and by Msgr. Hilary Franco, a longtime friend and adviser to Archbishop Sheen, regarding Archbishop Sheen’s wishes about being buried at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In a commentary published by the Register in February 2018, after the appellate court ordered the new evidentiary hearing, Msgr. Franco outlined why he believed Archbishop Sheen wanted to be buried at St. Patrick’s. And he said that after the new hearing took place, “I’m convinced that the court will find that Archbishop Sheen is indeed buried where he wished to be interred and that there’s no evidence at all that he would have wanted to be buried in Peoria or anywhere else in the world.”
But Judge Bluth indicated in her June 8 ruling that the additional testimony by both parties had disclosed no evidentiary difference between Mrs. Cunningham and Msgr. Franco, regarding the question of whether Archbishop Sheen would have opposed the move of his body, if such a move was needed to facilitate his recognition as a saint.
The judge further found that the “evidentiary hearing revealed that the location of Archbishop Sheen's final resting place would not have been his primary concern; his focus was on souls rather than the location of earthly remains.”
Added Judge Bluth, “It makes no sense, given his lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church, that he would choose a location (New York City) over the chance to become a saint.”
In its statement following the ruling, the Diocese of Peoria communicated Bishop Jenky’s hope that the New York Archdiocese will decline further legal action regarding the matter and cooperate with Cunningham and the Diocese of Peoria in moving Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s remains to Peoria, facilitating the next steps in the process of beatification.
Said the statement, “Bishop Jenky encourages everyone to pray for a renewed spirit of cooperation in the effort to beatify Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.