Archdiocese of New York confirms it will cooperate with Illinois diocese in wake of legal dispute
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The Archdiocese of New York, which for years resisted the removal of the body of one of its most famous churchmen, said Saturday that it will cooperate with the transfer of the remains of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, confirmed to Catholic News Agency that the archdiocese will cooperate in moving Sheen’s body to the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, now that all legal means of challenging that move seem to have been exhausted.
The archdiocese fought attempts to move the body of the famous 1950s-era television priest spearheaded by his niece, Joan Cunningham. But the New York Court of Appeals last Friday denied further appeal of a New York Supreme Court decision upholding Cunningham’s petition to move her uncle from the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where they have rested since Sheen’s death in 1979.
Cunningham argues that although Sheen’s will states that his wish was to be buried in New York, she believes he would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew it would help advance his cause for sainthood, CNA reported. Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria in 1919. In 1951 he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the New York Archdiocese, in the midst of a growing public profile as a radio and television evangelist. New York City would be his base for the rest of his life, except for a brief stint as Bishop of Rochester in upstate New York.
The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop, a key step on the way to canonization, but in 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the cause on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese, CNA explained:
In 2016, Cunningham filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York has repeatedly appealed the attempt to transfer Sheen’s remains to Peoria, arguing that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is buried there.
“While we did not initiate this matter, the Trustees of St. Patrick’s and the Archdiocese believed that it was not simply their duty, but a solemn obligation, to seek to uphold Archbishop Sheen’s last wishes, as directed in his Will, to be buried in New York—a position held until recently by Joan Cunningham herself,” Zwilling told CNA. “In light of the court’s denial of further appeal, the Trustees of St. Patrick and the Archdiocese will work cooperatively with Mrs. Cunningham and the Diocese of Peoria to arrange for the respectful transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s mortal remains.”