WASHINGTON — The canonization cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen has been suspended indefinitely, according to a statement from the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, where the archbishop was born. But in a statement issued today, the Archdiocese of New York said it “would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause in an attempt to move it forward” if Peoria’s decision is final.
The suspension was announced “with immense sadness,” the Diocese of Peoria said. “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.”
Sheen, who gained fame in the 1950s with a prime-time television series called “Life Is Worth Living,” died in New York in 1979.
The diocesan statement said the Archdiocese of New York denied a request from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, to move the archbishop’s body to Peoria.
The Archdiocese of New York defended its decision on Thursday in which it reiterated Sheen’s request that he be buried in New York. Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese, wrote that the only communication from Rome concerning the matter is a decade-old directive not to move the body.
Deacon Greg Kendra, in a Sept. 3 posting on his blog The Deacon’s Bench, said the reason for the Peoria’s request was for “official inspection and to take first-class relics from the remains.”
New York said it is willing to share relics with Peoria, but that “Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan does object to the dismemberment of the Archbishop’s body.” Some Catholics believe that relics, whether pieces of a saint’s body, called first-class relics, or items that came in contact with the saint during his or her life, are worthy of special veneration.
Peoria hasn’t yet reacted to New York’s offer, but before the archdiocese’s statement was released, the Peoria diocese said Sheen’s candidacy was now on the back burner.
“After further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the congregation’s historic archive,” the Peoria diocesan statement said.
Bonnie Engstrom, whose delivery of a baby thought to be stillborn in 2010 provided the basis for a possible miracle attributable to Archbishop Sheen, expressed sadness and confusion over the delay in the sainthood cause.
“We are very disappointed that the cause to canonize Venerable Fulton Sheen had to be closed, especially because it had been progressing so well,” she told the Catholic Herald, a British Catholic newspaper. “We are incredibly saddened and confused by the Archdiocese of New York’s decision to not cooperate with the Sheen Foundation on the cause. We trust in the goodness of God.”
Engstrom’s son James had no recorded heartbeat for 61 minutes after delivery. Then, as doctors were about to pronounce the child dead, James’ heart started beating. He has defied doctors’ predictions that he would not survive, or that he would have severe physical and developmental limitations. In March, a seven-member team of medical experts convoked by the Vatican reported there is no natural explanation for the boy’s survival.
“Countless supporters especially from the local church in Central Illinois have given their time, treasure and talent for this good work with the clear understanding that the body of Venerable Sheen would return to the diocese,” the Peoria statement said. “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. New York’s change of mind took place as the work on behalf of the cause had reached a significant stage.”
Archbishop Sheen, after his years in the TV limelight, retained a high profile by running the Society for the Propagation of the Faith out of New York City.
Crux national reporter Michael O’Loughlin contributed to this report.