Stalling Sainthood: The Inexplicable Interruption of the Cause of Bishop Sheen


You no doubt have already heard the news. If you are like most of us, you may be feeling shock and dismay. The cause for the canonization of Bishop Fulton Sheen has been derailed by the Archdiocese of New York for reasons unknown. And it has been accomplished through what appears to be nothing more significant than a procedural technicality

Bishop Sheen, who was ordained a priest in the diocese of Peoria, Illinois, in 1919, was expected to have his body returned from New York City to his home diocese where it would be examined and first-class relics would be taken, all while waiting for the miracle attributed to his intercession to be approved by Rome.

The miracle itself was not insignificant. It wasn’t the sort of case that left room for medical dispute. A stillborn baby, dead for an hour, was brought back to life through Sheen’s intercession. Things were moving forward. All signs were positive.

And then last night, the bombshell dropped.

It is with immense sadness that the Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Bishop of Peoria andPresident of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, announced today that the Cause forSheen’s beatification and canonization has for the foreseeable future been suspended. The process to verify a possible miracle attributed to Sheen had been going extremely well, and only awaited a vote of the Cardinals and the approval of the Holy Father. There was every indication that a possible date for beatification in Peoria would have been scheduled for as early as the coming year.

The Holy See expected that the remains of Venerable Sheen would be moved to Peoria where official inspection would be made and first class relics be taken. Subsequently, the Archdiocese of New York denied Bishop Jenky’s request to move the body to Peoria. After further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.

Bonnie Engstrom, the mother of the little boy who was healed in the miracle attributed to Sheen, also made a statement on her website:

We are sad, angry, and – quite frankly – scandalized to learn that the Sheen Foundation has no other choice but to shut down Fulton Sheen’s cause for beatification and canonization.

At this point in the cause it is the canonical norm that the Sheen Foundation would examine Sheen’s body and acquire first class relics for the faithful to reverence, et cetera, because we’re Catholic and that’s what we do. The Archdiocese of New York has refused to allow the Sheen Foundation to do so, despite the fact that even the Vatican has expected it of them, despite the fact that they had previously assured the Sheen Foundation and Bishop Jenky that they would.
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. 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.
“It is a shame.” I feel that this is a tremendous understatement. I have never met a Catholic who did not find something to love about Bishop Sheen. His wisdom, his passion for the Catholic Faith, his love of souls – all of it was evident. Here was a man who, dressed in the full regalia of his office, stood in front of a chalkboard on national prime-time television and taught people the beautiful, uncomfortable truths of salvation. In doing so, he consistently drew an audience in the tens of millions. Life is Worth Living was, at the time, one of the most-watched shows on the air. In 1952, Sheen won an Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding Television Personality.” (In his acceptance speech, he thanked his writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)
His books were equally enriching. Books like [easyazon_link asin=”0818907754″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Way to Happiness[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link asin=”0892439157″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Peace of Soul[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link asin=”0933932871″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”onep073-20″]Three to Get Married[/easyazon_link] – practical, accessible guides written to help Catholics live their faith, their vocations, and their state in life in a way that drew them more deeply into the divine mystery.
Because his influence was so recent, you will find that many people you know may have their own personal anecdotes about Sheen, who was as warm and personable off the air as he was when the cameras were rolling. Father Andrew Chura (may he rest in peace), the former pastor of St. Joseph’s Byzantine Church in Toronto, Ohio, once told me over dinner how he had taught the good Bishop the Byzantine liturgy.
“Most people don’t know it,” Fr. Chura had said, “but Bishop Sheen was bi-ritual. I taught him the Divine Liturgy when I was a young priest. The funny thing was, as powerful of an orator as Bishop Sheen was, he couldn’t carry a tune.” He broke into a big smile over his steak. “And since the entire Divine Liturgy is sung, he was horrible at it.”
In my own family, there is another story. The McEleheron Family singers — five sisters, and cousins to me — once sang Grassi’s Magnificat for Bishop Sheen when they had occasion to meet him. He found it so moving and so powerful that he told them they should sing it wherever they go. In the decades that followed, there hasn’t been a family funeral or wedding without it, including my own wedding. It has served as a powerful (and tear-invoking) backdrop to my life as a Catholic.
Bishop sheen crosses the divide between traditionalist Catholics and those in the post Vatican II Church, uniting them rather than enhancing their divisions. He seems to have embodied and embraced both modes of the Church’s expression, and if either side of the debate finds fault with his willingness to espouse the other, few can find fault with his clear articulation of the faith that binds both to Holy Mother Church. He is venerated by Catholics of every stripe.
The lack of explanation from the New York Archdiocese on the decision not to release his remains to Bishop Jenky of Peoria leaves this affair open to interpretation, and the Catholic Internet is alight with predictable speculation. From a public relations standpoint, the decision is so lead-footed it’s hard to believe any thought was given to the consequences.
During his life, Sheen had his own run-ins with the politics of the New York Archdiocese, culminating in an event he would never speak of: the alleged vengeance of a slighted Cardinal Spellman, who eventually got Sheen off the air during the height of his show’s popularity. The politics of the archdiocese have only gotten more ugly since. Many eyes are already on New York due to the equally inexplicable threat of closure of the thriving and financially viable parish of Holy Innocents in the Garment District – the only church in the city to offer a daily traditional Latin Mass. Yesterday, the news was also released that Timothy Cardinal Dolan will serve as Grand Marshall to the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the first year it will allow homosexual activists to march under their own banner — a decision he has chosen not to address with his authority as a prince of the Church. Stories abound from people living in New York of the difficulty with which orthodox expressions of Catholicism fight for survival.
The move to block Bishop Sheen’s process of canonization feels, to many, like one more strike against a Church that used to unflinchingly stand for what it believed in.
That the decision came on the traditional feast day of Pope St. Pius X, enemy of Modernism and most notable 20th-century representative of The Way Things Were in the Church, also seems an odd coincidence. The Church faces a dichotomy — of teaching, of action, of liturgy, of evangelical zeal — which places Pope Emeritus Benedict’s much-feared “Hermeneutic of Rupture” in the category of being a real obstacle Catholics must grapple with rather than, as he so often insisted, a thing avoided through “continuity.”
In his pivotal speech in England earlier this year — a speech that applies with ever-more relevance to the situation unfolding in today’s Church —  Bishop Athanasius Schneider made a bold assessment of Catholicism today:
Now we are, I would say, in the fourth great crisis, in a tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy. We have already been in this for 50 years. Perhaps God will be merciful to us in 20 or 30 years? Nevertheless we have all the beauty of the divine truths, of divine love and grace in the Church. No one can take this away, no synod, no bishop, not even a Pope can take away the treasure and beauty of the Catholic faith, of the Eucharistic Jesus, of the sacraments. The unchangeable doctrine, the unchangeable liturgical principles, the holiness of the life constitute the true power of the Church.
We have to pray that God will guide his Church from this crisis and give to his Church apostles who are courageous and holy. We need defenders of the truth and defenders of the Eucharistic Jesus. When a bishop is defending the flock and defending Jesus in the Eucharist, then this bishop is defending the little ones in the Church, not the powerful ones.

It is quite insignificant to be popular or unpopular. For every clergy the first interest is to be popular in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of today or of the powerful. Jesus said a warning: Woe of you when people speak good of you.

Popularity is false. Jesus and the apostles rejected popularity. Great saints of the Church, e.g. SS Thomas More and John Fisher, rejected popularity and they are the great heroes. And those who today are worried with the popularity of the mass media and public opinion, they will not be remembered in the history. They will be remembered as cowards and not as heroes of the Faith.

On the bottom of our homepage, in the “Featured Videos” section, we have had, for a week or two, a talk from Bishop Sheen about the demonic in the world. From beyond the grave, he teaches us still, and his message — which dovetails with that of Bishop Schneider — seems more relevant than ever. If you do not have time to watch the whole 35 minute video, it is worth your time to spend a few moments with it here, beginning at the 17-minute mark:
If there is a reason why Bishop Sheen’s cause should not continue, the New York Archdiocese should make it unequivocally clear, rather than grinding the entire process to a halt without explanation by means of a bureaucratic technicality. If there is no reason to halt his cause, then Cardinal Dolan should make haste to release his remains and let the Church continue her work in examining the life of this man, by all accounts one of the great Catholic lights of the 20th century.
At OnePeterFive, we focus on practical, “DIY Catholicism.” We seek not only to educate, but to offer concrete action steps, wherever possible, to help people to more fully live their Catholic Faith. Bishop Sheen’s approach was, in so many ways, the same. He didn’t just teach people about the faith. He taught them how to live it.
And there are concrete steps we can take, even now, as regards this situation. We needn’t sit idly by waiting for the Cardinal to make the right decision. Bonnie Engstrom has made a request, and it seems to me a good one:

[H]ere is your call to action. If you want to see Fulton Sheen beatified and then canonized we need the Archdiocese of New York to cooperate and we need the Vatican to know that we are upset!Please, write to the congregation – have every single person you know write to them! Homeschoolers – you have your handwriting lesson for this week! Catholic school teachers – here is yours! DRE’s – have your CCD students write on Sunday! Moms, dads, grandparents, nuns, brothers, single people, college students – write to the Congregation (and hey! write to or call Dolan’s office too – we will!) and tell them that you want to see Fulton Sheen’s cause reopened and his body to be moved to Peoria, IL!

You, me, all of us raising a big stink – maybe we can make a change! Let the Vatican know that we want Sheen canonized and that they need to do something about it!

You can mail the Congregation for the Causes of Saints with this address:
Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Vatican City State 00120 Europe

You can mail a letter (in Spanish if you know it) to the Pope with this address:
His Holiness Pope Francis
Vatican City State 00120 Europe

If you would prefer to make your voice heard in other ways, this is Cardinal Dolan’s Twitter account. Here is the contact page for the Archdiocese of New York.
Whatever happens, pray. Pray that God’s will in this situation will be made manifest, and will be accomplished. Entrust your most difficult petitions to Bishop Sheen. If God desires that this canonization go forward, I have little doubt that there are many more miracles in store. Eventually, they will not be able to be ignored.
I will leave you with the prayer for Bishop Sheen’s canonization from The Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, which is working on his cause:
Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.
If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria
Venerable Fulton Sheen, Ora Pro Nobis!

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...