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Bishop Fulton Sheen was a man for all ages and all places. He was born in the 1800s in El Paso, Illinois, celebrated his first Mass in Peoria, Illinois, studied and taught both in the U.S. and Europe, and was made auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York and the archbishop of the Titular See of Newport, Wales.
However, it was Sheen’s work in media that truly brought him to everyone. Often called the first televangelist, he enthusiastically harnessed the powers of technology and media to share the Gospel with the world. His tireless efforts strengthened the faithful, and brought unknown souls to God, including well-known agnostics, Communists, and celebrities.
That someone with a heart this large both for God and his fellow man had the cause for canonization opened on his behalf is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is the recent unexpected and shocking turn this cause has taken.
Anyone familiar with the cause for Sheen’s canonization may remember that a major hurdle was cleared early this year, when the alleged miracle involving a stillborn infant in Peoria, Illinois, cleared the seven person medical panel set up by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This was an important milestone, one that set the stage for Sheen’s beatification as early as next year. The only major things left were a vote by the Cardinals, and approval from the Holy Father, the favorable results of both people were optimistic about.
Then, out of nowhere, came a decision that has shut down the entire process indefinitely, now rendering Sheen’s cause to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive—shorthand, it seems, for the “cold case” file.
In a shocking move, the Archdiocese of New York, whose St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan holds the earthly remains of Sheen, has refused to allow the Bishop’s body to be moved to Peoria for inspection and for first class relics to be taken. According to a statement from Bishop Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, this refusal is completely unexpected, and in fact, many assurances had been given by Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York that when the time came, the transfer of the body would take place.
And so, because of this refusal, it now seems that Sheen’s cause is indefinitely stalled out. A man who reached millions and millions of souls, both in space and time, via his media ministry, who is credited with the resurrection of a stillborn infant, and who still continues to stir the embers of faith in people around the world has now had his cause for canonization shut down by a single archdiocese for as yet unknown reasons.
It is fruitless to conjecture the decision of Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York. However, gone are the days of the laity’s unquestioning acceptance of clerical decisions. It is possible to be obedient and faithful to the Magisterium while asking for explanations from those in charge. In fact, it is the very fact that every single tenet of Catholic dogma holds up to honest, open-minded scrutiny that draws people to Holy Mother Church.
At the time of this writing, there has been no statement from the Archdiocese of New York regarding this mysterious turn of events. And should one come, there is no guarantee that it will allow the process to start back up. However, we are not powerless. Letters to both the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Holy Father himself will allow the faithful to continue to champion Bishop Fulton Sheen’s cause.
As Bishop Jenky notes in his press release, “saints are always made by God, and not man,” nor, it is logical to assume, can they be stopped by man. The world needs the saintly example of Bishop Sheen. He belongs to God, who shares him not just with Peoria, or New York, or one specific spot in time.
Bonnie Engstrom, mother of James, “the boy who lived” in Sheen’s first approved miracle, puts the longing for Sheen’s canonization perfectly:
"In the end this is not about my family, or any diocese, or even Fulton Sheen. This is about God being glorified.”
If you would like to voice your support about the continuation of Bishop Sheen’s canonization, the following addresses can be used:
Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Vatican City State 00120 Europe
His Holiness Pope Francis
Vatican City State 00120 Europe
Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.