In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio and TV who out-polled star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television, winning two Emmys and a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants.
After his death in 1979, it was no surprise that Sheen would be pushed for sainthood. But now a bishop and a cardinal have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body: the Archdiocese of New York, where he is buried, or the Diocese of Peoria, where he was raised and ordained.
The fight between Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York erupted in public when Jenky issued a statement blasting the New York archdiocese for thwarting Sheen’s expected beatification next year by reneging on an agreement to return the body to Peoria.
“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,” the Diocese of Peoria said in a statement.
The statement said that senior Vatican officials were set to approve a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intervention – the revival after an hour of a stillborn baby – clearing the way for him to be beatified in a few months, the final step before formal canonization, which would require a second miracle.
Rome expected that Sheen’s body would be transferred from the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried, to Peoria to collect relics from the body, the Illinois diocese said. Peoria has been in charge of Sheen’s cause for canonization since it was opened in 2002. In 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen “venerable,” a requisite first step before beatification.
But the Archdiocese of New York denied Jenky’s request to move the body and “after further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.”
In other words, Sheen’s cause for sainthood has been indefinitely suspended.