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Fulton Sheen’s canonization cause resumes as his body is finally released to home diocese

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

NEW YORK CITY, June 27, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The process of beatification for a beloved modern American churchman may now go forward. 

Early this morning the body of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), the famous broadcaster-priest, was disinterred from the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and flown to Illinois. It will be placed in a monument in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria. 

This signals the decisive end to a three-year-long legal dispute between the Archdiocese of New York and Sheen’s closest living relative, his niece Joan Cunningham Sheen. Since 2014, Sheen represented the wishes of her family and the Diocese of Peoria in arguing that her uncle’s remains should be transferred to the Illinois cathedral. The Archdiocese of New York, however, wished to keep Sheen’s body in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The New York Court of Appeals decided in Sheen’s niece’s favor on June 7, 2019, and the New York diocese, having already appealed four times to keep Sheen’s body, chose not to continue the fight. 

During the controversy, the Vatican suspended the Cause for Sheen’s beatification, which was being advanced by the Diocese of Peoria, until his body could be transferred. Today Daniel Jenky, the Bishop of Peoria, announced that the Cause had resumed. 

According to Christine Niles of Church Militant, Joan Cunningham Sheen, members of her family, her attorney, and Monsignor James Kreuse, vicar-general of the Diocese of Peoria, all arrived at about 4:45 a.m. this morning for the disinterment. They emerged at 5:45 a.m. with a coffin containing Bishop Sheen’s remains, which was placed in a black hearse. According to Bishop Jenky of Peoria, Sheen’s body was driven straight to La Guardia airport and flown to O’Hare airport. 

Church Militant’s Michael Voris revealed on Twitter that his news organization had been outside St. Patrick’s since 4:00 a.m. and that there was no sign of New York’s Cardinal Dolan at the disinterment.  

“Cardinal Dolan spent a million dollars of faithful Catholics’ money in lawyer fees to prevent this scene and then didn’t even have the decency to show up as the coffin was being carried out and put in the hearse,” he wrote. 

In another tweet Voris expressed displeasure that “this future saint was spirited out of NYC … under a cloud of secrecy.”

“He should have been given a tremendous send off.” 

In a press release, Bishop Jenky explained that there were reasons for having a quiet disinterment. 

“Church law requires that the transfer of the remains of one considered for beatification must be done without any solemnity,” Jenky wrote.  

“As a result, the transfer could not be publicized in advance. Also, no liturgical ceremony or public gathering could be held during the transfer. Therefore, the transfer of the remains was done without prior public notice.” (Full statement reproduced below.) 

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), the first modern American “media priest,” became a household name across the United States during a broadcasting career that spanned five decades. Born in El Paso, Illinois, Sheen was ordained a priest in Peoria in 1919 and  consecrated a bishop in 1951. He served as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York from 1951 to 1965. He was then appointed Archbishop of Rochester, a post from which he resigned in 1969.

In 2002, almost 23 years after his death, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints opened the cause for Sheen’s sainthood, at the request of the Peoria diocese. In 2006, testimony concerning two miracles alleged to have occurred through Sheen’s intercession was sent to Rome. In 2012, after the Vatican had sifted through boxes of material on Sheen’s life and ministry, Pope Benedict XVI declared the late archbishop “Venerable.” It seemed as though Sheen would soon continue to the next stage of the canonization process, beatification. 

However, in 2014 the Diocese of Peoria announced that the process had been stalled and the Cause “suspended.” Although Sheen could have been beatified in Peoria early in 2015, in order for this to happen, his body would have to be moved from New York to Peoria first. This, however, entailed the permission of the Archdiocese of New York, and that the Archdiocese refused to give ― until this month, following the rejection of its final legal appeal.

Statement of Most Rev. Daniel Jenky,  Bishop of Peoria

Most Rev. Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, is happy to announce that the remains of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen have been transferred from St. Patrick Cathedral, New York, to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Peoria. Bishop Jenky is also happy to announce that the Cause for Beatification has resumed.

Earlier this month, on June 7, 2019, the three-year long legal litigation concerning the transfer of Sheen’s remains ended when the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, rejected the final appeal of the Archdiocese of New York. Shortly after this ruling, the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria cooperated in arranging for the transfer. This transfer followed civil law and Church law. The proper civil permits for the transfer were secured.  Church law requires that the transfer of the remains of one considered for beatification must to be done without any solemnity. As a result, the transfer could not be publicized in advance. Also, no liturgical ceremony or public gathering could be held during the transfer. Therefore, the transfer of the remains was done without prior public notice.

Early this morning, June 27, 2019, Joan Sheen Cunningham, niece of Venerable Archbishop Sheen, and Patricia Gibson, Chancellor and Attorney for the Diocese of Peoria, along with funeral home and cemetery personnel, gathered at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York.  The remains of Sheen were disinterred from the basement crypt under the main altar at St. Patrick Cathedral. Sheen’s remains were immediately taken to LaGuardia airport and flown to O’Hare airport to be transported to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria.   

The remains will be encased into a marble monument inside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria. Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s new tomb is located at the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Patricia Gibson was appointed as the official witness of the disinterment and transfer of the remains as required by the Vatican and Church law.  Patricia Gibson stated:

After working eighteen years with Bishop Jenky on the Cause for Beatification, it was a great privilege and honor to be present and witness the transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains to his home cathedral in Peoria where he served Mass as a youth and was ordained priest 100 years ago.  Now that the three years of legal litigation has ended, I am grateful that the Archdiocese of New York cooperated with this transfer.  I am excited for the next steps in the Cause and pray that a beatification will happen very soon.

Now that the remains have been transferred to Peoria, the Cause for his Beatification has resumed. Bishop Jenky has notified the Vatican indicating that civil litigation has ended and that Sheen’s remains have been transferred. The Vatican has confirmed that the Cause for Beatification has now resumed.

The Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome will present the alleged miracle to Pope Francis for his decree authenticating the miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession. This alleged miracle involved the miraculous healing of a newborn infant who was without vital signs for over sixty minutes.

Following the decree of the miracle from Pope Francis, an additional decree from Pope Francis will call for the Beatification of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. After the Holy Father calls for the Beatification, the Diocese of Peoria will work with the Congregation of the Causes of Saints to organize the Beatification celebration, which would take place in Peoria. According to the current practice of the Vatican, a Beatification is celebrated in the local diocese where the Cause was instructed. Once the date for the Beatification is granted by Pope Francis, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, would come to Peoria to preside at the ceremony.

Although the date of Beatification is not known at this time, Bishop Jenky hopes and prays that these decrees from Rome will be issued in the coming weeks.  Bishop Jenky continues to be hopeful that Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen will be Beatified during this 100th anniversary year of his ordination to the priesthood in Peoria.  Everyone is encouraged to continue offering prayers for the Beatification of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. 

Bishop Jenky invites everyone to visit the new tomb of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria. Soon a permanent schedule of Cathedral hours will be published.  But, for this weekend, the Cathedral will be open at these times: 

Friday, June 28:  2pm to 4pm
Saturday, June 29: 10am to 2pm
Sunday, June 30:  9am to 2pm

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