Court Rules Bishop Sheen’s Body Goes to Peoria

The cause for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen, held up since 2014, appears ready to move forward.

(photo: Facebook/Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)

Today is a notable day for the cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Hours ago, Judge Arlene Bluth of the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham and her request for the release of her uncle’s body from the Archdiocese of New York for transfer to the Diocese of Peoria, Ilinios.

“This is really great news,” Msgr. James Kruse, vicar general of the Peoria diocese, told the Register. “The judge in New York issued her decision in favor of Joan Cunningham’s petition and she ordered the body be transferred here.”

Msgr. Kruse said, “We are confident that the Archdiocese of New York will follow the way of the court and be accommodating” for the mortal remains of Bishop Sheen to be moved here.

Patricia Gibson, the chancellor of the Peoria diocese as well as the attorney-in-house, has worked closely with the entire process from the beginning. After today’s ruling she reported on the elation of Joan Sheen Cunningham, the archbishop’s 88-year-old niece, oldest living relative and closest next-of-kin.

“Joan Cunningham is very excited and very grateful in regards of the ruling in her favor to transfer Bishop Sheen’s body,” Gibson said.

Then she added more news. “The bishop [Bishop Daniel Jenky] has asked me to move forward and begin the process to transfer Bishop Sheen. I hope that is accomplished before Christmas. It can all happen rather quickly.”

Msgr. Kruse added that this process “is a whole easier than people first realize.”


Court Ruling

The ruling to end the claims presented by two dioceses came five months after Cunningham filed her petition with the court in June.

At the start of her 10-page ruling, Judge Bluth determined “the Court finds that the petitioner has provided a good and substantial reason for moving the remains of the decedent, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (Archbishop Sheen), to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, and that respondents failed to supply a sufficient reason to reject the instant application.”

After speculating on Bishop Sheen’s wishes, the judge concluded, “This is what is not speculation: there is no support for the conclusion that Archbishop Sheen expressed a specific desire to be buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

In her ruling Judge Bluth will “defer to the wishes of the family because petitioner has set forth a justifiable, good, and substantial reason for moving Archbishop Sheen’s remains.”

The New York archdiocese issued a short statement after the ruling. It reads: “The Archdiocese of New York remains committed to supporting the Cause for beatification and canonization of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, which the Diocese of Peoria has done so much to promote and advance.  

“The Trustees of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, who operate the archdiocesan cemeteries, including Calvary Cemetery and the crypt beneath the high altar of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, will need to review today’s decision with their lawyers and determine what next steps they wish to take.”

Now that the court has delivered a verdict, Sheen’s beatification could happen shortly after his remains reach Peoria, of course with the approval of Pope Francis. The permanent location for the body was the primary obstacle to his beatification moving forward.

Msgr. Kruse has great faith “the process toward his beatification is hopefully coming to an end, and we’ll all be holding a great celebration in Peoria to celeb the beatification of Bishop Sheen. There are a few steps to complete, but hopefully it’s just around the corner.”

Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.