Archdiocese of New York releases statement on Abp. Sheen controversy UPDATED

The day after Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill. announced that the sainthood cause of Ven. Fulton Sheen had been suspended by the Vatican “for the foreseeable future,” the Archdiocese of New York released its own statement on the brewing controversy over Sheen’s bodily remains.

According to the statement out of Peoria yesterday, “The Holy See expected that the remains of Venerable Sheen would be moved to Peoria where official inspection would be made and first class relics be taken. Subsequently, the Archdiocese of New York denied Bishop Jenky’s request to move the body to Peoria. … 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.”

Today the communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, had this to say in response:

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen expressly stated his desire that his remains be buried in New York, a request that was granted by Cardinal Terrence Cooke when he was laid to rest beside the Archbishops of New York in the crypt beneath the high altar of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. To date, the only official instruction that the Archdiocese of New York has received from the Holy See regarding this matter was, from a decade ago, that his body not be moved to Peoria. To date, we have not received any further direction or request from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.    In addition, Archbishop Sheen’s closest surviving family members have also expressed their desire that their uncle’s wishes be respected and that his body remain in New York. 

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints did recently ask the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria to enter into a dialogue to see if there was a way to continue progress in moving the cause forward. Discussions with Peoria centered on two areas: the possible exhumation and study of the body; and the possible collection of “first class relics” of Archbishop Sheen.   Cardinal Timothy Dolan did express a hesitance in exhuming the body, unless the Congregation for the Causes of Saints directed that it be done, unless the process was approved by the family, that it be done modestly and reverently, and that the exhumation met the requirements of New York State law. He consulted with the family, who gave their approval if it would help advance the cause. 

Regarding first-class relics, Cardinal Dolan does object to the dismemberment of the Archbishop’s body.   However, if the body is exhumed, there is the strong likelihood that some relics would be present in the coffin, which could be reverently collected without disturbing the body, and then shared generously with the Diocese of Peoria. The family is at peace with this; and we will await directions from Rome. 

The statement also mentioned that the Archdiocese of New York “would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause in an attempt to move it forward, if such were in accord with the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.”

Earlier today Catholic News Agency reported that the official postulator for Sheen’s cause at the Congregation for Saints, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, believes that the dispute between Peoria and New York can be peaceably resolved and that the suspension of the cause won’t last long.

“[Dr. Ambrosi] has been aware of the issue regarding the transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains, but does not believe that this will be a lasting impediment,” his office told CNA. He expects “that the suspension of the cause will be temporary, since there are many people still committed to this cause and the beatification of Archbishop Sheen.”

Bonnie Engstrom’s son, James, did not exhibit a heartbeat for more than an hour after birth, and was about to be pronounced dead when his heart inexplicably began to beat. Engstrom attributes her son’s recovery to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, and a panel of medical experts stated last spring that there is no medical explanation for the child’s recovery and continued good health, moving Sheen a step closer to beatification.

Before the Archdiocese of New York released its statement today, Engstrom told the UK Catholic Herald: “We are very disappointed that the cause to canonize Venerable Fulton Sheen had to be closed, especially because it had been progressing so well. 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.”

Update, 9/5: Today the Diocese of Peoria released another statement, responding to several points made in the Archdiocese of New York’s statement.

Bishop Jenky wrote to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in early 2005 asking for the body to be transferred to Peoria. They did not in any way forbid the transfer of the body but simply indicated that it was not the appropriate time. The Congregation indicated that ‘the transfer was not opportune at this time because the Diocesan inquiry had just been started in the Diocese of Peoria.’ With this inquiry complete and a miracle being attributed to Sheen, now is an appropriate time. …

Clearly Archbishop Sheen’s wishes for his final resting place could not have anticipated that he would go through a canonization process led by his native Diocese of Peoria, after it was turned down by the Archdiocese of New York. The Diocese of Peoria has heard from several relatives this week regarding their desire that Bishop Jenky continue to work towards having the body transferred as was presumed from the beginning. 

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.