The stalled beatification cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen could soon resume, thanks to a petition by his family members weighing in on where he should be buried.
Joan Sheen Cunningham, the archbishop’s oldest living relative, was joined by other relatives of the archbishop in filing the legal petition with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, asking that the body be transferred to Peoria, Illinois.
“With the progress that the cause has already made, a beatification could be celebrated shortly after the arrival of the remains in Peoria and with the approval of Pope Francis,” the Diocese of Peoria said June 14 in its comment on the petition.
The transfer could take place as soon as the court grants approval, according to the diocese. The petition seeks to inter the archbishop in a crypt in St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Peoria. It claims that “in the very near future” the Vatican will order the beatification ceremony to be held in Peoria.
The Diocese of Peoria said that Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., is “immensely grateful” for the work of Cunningham and her family. The bishop is looking forward to resuming the archbishop’s cause of beatification.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI authorized a decree that recognized the heroic virtues of the beloved archbishop, who served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.”
Sheen also authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and served as an auxiliary bishop of New York and as Bishop of Rochester. He continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death in 1979 at the age of 84.
Sheen was born in the Peoria diocese and served as an altar boy at its cathedral, where he was ordained a priest in 1919.
The Peoria diocese opened the cause for canonization in 2002 after the New York archdiocese said it would not explore the case.
Despite the progress of the cause for beatification, Sheen’s body became the subject of an impasse between the Peoria diocese and the New York archdiocese. His body is interred in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
The Peoria diocese was unable to obtain permission to exhume and transfer the archbishop’s remains. Jenky suspended the beatification cause in September 2014.
The Archdiocese of New York said that Sheen expressly stated his desire that his remains be interred in New York. The archdiocese also cited an official instruction from the Holy See 10 years ago that Sheen’s body not be moved to Peoria.
Due to this instruction, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in 2014 that he was hesitant to exhume the body before receiving explicit permission from the Vatican and from close family members.
Now, officials in the Peoria diocese hope for further action.
“I am confident that the Archdiocese of New York will cooperate fully with the request of the family of Archbishop Sheen,” Monsignor James Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, said June 14.
“On several occasions, the archdiocese has declared its desire to cooperate with the wishes of the family,” he said. “I cannot imagine that the archdiocese would oppose the family’s petition presented to the court. It is our hope that the archdiocese will offer their consent to this petition to expedite these matters.”
According to the diocese, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has no objection to the transfer of the body. It added that the congregation has repeatedly voiced appreciation for the diocese’s promotion of the beatification cause.
Joan Sheen Cunningham’s petition said that if Sheen knew he would be declared a saint, he would have wanted to be interred in Peoria’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. The petition noted his first Holy Communion and his priestly ordination took place at the cathedral. His parents are buried within blocks of the cathedral, and most of his living relatives still reside near Peoria.
“A shrine to Archbishop Sheen is in the process of being built next to the altar in St. Mary’s where the marble crypt is to be located,” the petition said.
The New York archdiocese is pleased at the apparent progress, but more steps may be necessary, said archdiocese spokesperson Joseph Zwilling.
He told CNA that the archdiocese had made its own proposal several weeks previously, after securing the advice and consent of Cunningham.
According to Zwilling, this proposal would balance Sheen’s desire to be permanently buried in New York with “the understandable desire of the Diocese of Peoria to have his earthly remains present in their diocese for the celebration of his long hoped-for beatification.”
Zwilling said the New York archdiocese asked the Peoria diocese to reopen the cause with the understanding that Sheen’s remains would be sent to Peoria for a beatification ceremony as soon as it was announced. The archbishop’s remains would then be returned to the crypt at St. Patrick’s Cathedral “at an appropriate time.”
“The Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome tells us all that is holding up the cause is the letter from the Bishop of Peoria reopening the cause he closed two years ago,” said the archdiocese’s spokesman.
He said the archdiocese will need some time to review Cunningham’s legal petition, but he said it is “definitely encouraging that the Diocese of Peoria seems ready to reopen the cause.”
“Bishop Daniel Jenky and all who have done so much to advance the cause of the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen are owed a great debt of gratitude for all of the work that they have accomplished thus far,” he said. “If it be God’s will, may we soon be celebrating the news that Archbishop Sheen will be beatified in Peoria.”
Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area.
In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous.
The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Sheen.
Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.