In response to the statement from the Archdiocese of New York on the dispute over the transfer of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains to Peoria for the next stage of the canonization process, the Diocese of Peoria has issued their own “Additional Clarifications” release. It’s in PDF format at the diocesan website, so I’ll reproduce it here for ease of reading:
After an outpouring of great support for the actions taken by Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria regarding the suspension of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Cause of Sainthood, the Diocese is providing additional clarifications.
According to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Peoria, Patricia Gibson, who has worked with the Cause from the beginning, “Bishop Jenky only agreed to pursue the cause for canonization of Fulton Sheen after he was assured by the Archdiocese of New York that they had no interest in pursuing the cause but would support Peoria’s efforts. Specifically, Bishop Jenky was told by Cardinal Egan in September 2002 that New York was not interested in pursuing the cause. He also indicated that at the appropriate time he would facilitate the transfer of the body to Peoria.
In December 2004, Cardinal Egan again confirmed at a meeting in New York with Bishop Jenky that he continued to support the efforts of the Cause and reassured him that he would work to transfer the body at the appropriate time to be enshrined in the Peoria Cathedral.” Based on this ongoing assurance, Bishop Jenky wrote to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in early 2005 asking for the body to be transferred to Peoria. They did not in any way forbid the transfer of the body but simply indicated that it was not the appropriate time. The Congregation indicated that “the transfer was not opportune at this time because the Diocesan inquiry had just been started in the Diocese of Peoria.” With this inquiry complete and a miracle being attributed to Sheen, now is an appropriate time.
On June 27, 2014, the Diocese of Peoria received the most recent communication from the Archdiocese of New York. This letter from its lawyer definitively stated that it would never allow the examination of the body, the securing of relics or the transfer of the body. Upon receiving this shocking statement and consulting with advisors to the Sheen Cause, Bishop Jenky believed that he had no choice but to stop his efforts and suspend the Cause.
Gibson added, “It is essential to realize that Bishop Jenky now feels a great responsibility to be faithful to the thousands of supporters throughout Central Illinois, the nation and the world, in regard to the status of the cause. From the beginning, Bishop Jenky sought assurances that New York did not want to undertake the Cause and would support Peoria’s efforts. This assurance was given before the process ever began. Bishop Jenky also confirmed that at the appropriate time Fulton Sheen’s body would be transferred to his boyhood home and be placed in a shrine in St. Mary’s Cathedral where he was ordained. Over the last twelve years, countless people have offered their time and financial support for these efforts in order not only to spread the word about Fulton Sheen’s virtues and holiness but also to prepare a shrine in Peoria upon his beatification. After New York clearly turned down the Cause, Peoria was happy to put forth the lengthy work and effort because of how much he is loved by the priests and lay faithful in this Diocese.”
Clearly Archbishop Sheen’s wishes for his final resting place could not have anticipated that he would go through a canonization process led by his native Diocese of Peoria, after it was turned down by the Archdiocese of New York. The Diocese of Peoria has heard from several relatives this week regarding their desire that Bishop Jenky continue to work towards having the body transferred as was presumed from the beginning.
The Chancellor, Patricia Gibson, further states, “The actions taken by Bishop Jenky this week reflect his strong desire to be true to the countless supporters of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Cause who for over twelve years have labored and supported bringing the message of Fulton Sheen and his sanctity to the world. Bishop Jenky continues to hope that the promises made twelve years ago will be honored.”
Again, we are in a position of having to discern where the truth is found. In a post on September 4th that I found highly informative (which has since mysteriously disappeared and leads to a 404 error; here’s a cached version) Brandon Vogt provided the following information relevant to this situation:
I reached out to a close friend of mine, who is intimately involved in the cause, to see if there was more to the story. On the condition of anonymity, he shared that according to his understanding, the Archdiocese of New York got their civil lawyers involved, and they refused to even let Sheen’s tomb be opened, as required by the Canonical process at this point. They said that all this talk of relics and remains is distasteful to Americans. (I’m guessing they have not seen the crowds venerating John Paul II, Mother Teresa, or the relics of the Little Flower.)
My friend doesn’t think Cardinal Dolan is involved in this decision directly, but probably following his advisers.
He also noted that once the lawyers expressed their unwillingness to open the tomb, Bishop Jenky contacted the Congregation for Saints to say that the cause was at a stopping point until the remains could be inspected. He asked for their help to get that done. But instead of offering help, they responded that they would be forced to archive the cause since it was at a stopping point, and that Peoria and New York would have to work it out among themselves.
All of that occurred over two months ago. My friend believes Bishop Jenky was trying to see if something could be worked out just to inspect the remains, but when New York continued to give an absolute no, he felt obligated to announce things publicly.
My friend also said he had personally seen letters from the Holy See saying the body should be in Peoria, and also letters from the Archbishops of New York agreeing to this. He also said that Sheen did not ask to be buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Cardinal Cooke insisted on that. He believes Sheen asked to be buried with other priests in a cemetery in the Bronx. The great majority of his remaining family now is in favor of the body and tomb being located in Peoria.
Brandon also updated his page with the following, which lends even more weight to Peoria’s case, and makes undermines the Archdiocese of New York’s credibility even further:
Based on info from Thomas Reeves’ biography, America’s Bishop: The life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen (Encounter Books, 2001), it seems Sheen did not want to buried in St. Patrick’s cathedral but in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Cardinal Cooke is the one who had him buried in the cathedral:
“On December 4 , Fulton made out his will. He asked that his funeral Mass be celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and that he be buried in Calvary Cemetery, the official cemetery of the Archdiocese of New York.” (p. 358)
“Several family members stayed with the cardinal [Cooke] during these days [around December 10, 1979] Joseph Sheen Jr. later recalled sitting next to Cooke in the dining room, when the cardinal pointed to a painting of a bishop (no doubt Archbishop John Hughes) on the wall and said, “He built it,” meaning St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “and your uncle filled it, that’s why I want him buried under the altar.” (p. 361)
The Archdiocese of New York’s statement is therefore a bit misleading when it says:
“Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen expressly stated his desire that his remains be buried in New York, a request that was granted by Cardinal Terrence Cooke when he was laid to rest beside the Archbishops of New York in the crypt beneath the high altar of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.”
It’s true Sheen requested to be buried in New York, but not in Saint Patrick’s.
If I’m choosing who I want to have my back in a world grown increasingly hostile to the Catholic faith, I think the choice is obvious. And since raising a saint to the altar is all about venerating those whom chose God over the world, it seems that the person advocating for Sheen’s canonization — rather than the one laying down obstacles to it — also seems to be the kind of guy you’d want on your team.
The deck is stacked. Connecting the dots here is pretty elementary. New York has some explaining to do. Until then, their protestations of innocence don’t pass the smell test.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.