The Dispatch: More from CWR...

“I consider everything waste except knowing Christ…”

In his posthumously published autobiography Treasure in Clay, Archbishop Sheen acknowledged having faults, including vanity and a comfortable lifestyle.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS file photo)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s legion of admirers can only hope his beatification, originally scheduled December 21 in his home diocese of Peoria and now postponed by the Vatican, will soon take place. The postponement was requested by what the diocese said were “a few members” of the U.S. bishops’ conference. No reasons for the delay were given, and the diocese called Archbishop Sheen “a model of holiness and virtue.” The Diocese of Rochester has now confirmed, according to CNA, that it had requested the delay, apparently because of concerns about Sheen’s role in “priests’ assignments.”

Beatification–formal recognition by the Church that someone is “blessed”–is the last stage in the process leading to canonization, formal recognition as a saint. Like canonization, it requires authentication by the Holy See of a miracle performed at the intercession of the one beatified.

Archbishop Sheen’s miracle was the healing in Peoria of an apparently stillborn infant whose heart did not beat for 61 minutes but started after his intercession was sought. Today young James Fulton Engstrom is a healthy nine-year-old who likes chicken nuggets, “Star Wars,” and riding his bike.

Following ordination as a priest in September, 1919 and studies in Louvain, Belgium, and Rome, Fulton Sheen taught theology and later philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In early 1930 the National Council of Catholic Men invited him to launch a Sunday evening radio show called “The Catholic Hour.” The response was so positive that he soon was the regular speaker, with an audience that eventually rose to 4 million and generated as many as 6,000 letters weekly from both Catholics and non-Catholics.

Then came television. In 1952 the Dumont network asked the recently named auxiliary bishop of New York to fill a half-hour in the Tuesday 8-9 p.m. time slot opposite comedian Milton Berle’s enormously popular show on another network. It was assumed that Bishop Sheen’s “Life Is Worth Living” would attract only a handful of viewers.

The assumption was wrong. By April the bishop, clad in episcopal robes and using neither teleprompter nor notes, was getting 8,500 letters a week. At the peak, he had 30 million viewers. The New York Times TV critic hailed the show as “remarkably absorbing.” Time magazine put him on its cover and called him “perhaps the most famous preacher in the U.S., certainly America’s best-known Roman Catholic priest.” Receiving an Emmy, he thanked “my four writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

He also wrote books, 73 of them, many still in print. He was famous, too, for his celebrity converts including writer Heywood Broun, playwright, congressperson and ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, former editor of the Communist Daily Worker Louis Budenz, musician Fritz Kreisler, and movie actress Virginia Mayo. An ardent anti-Communist since the 1930s, he was a notable Cold War figure but opposed the war in Vietnam. As national head of Propagation of the Faith, he raised some $200 million for foreign missions.

In 1966, at age 71, he was named Bishop of Rochester, N.Y. Although he aimed to be a Vatican II bishop, he was criticized for unilateral decision making and later attributed his problems to lack of experience heading a diocese. Upon retiring in 1971, he was named an archbishop. On December 9, 1979, he was found in his private chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, dead of heart failure at the age of 84.

In his posthumously published autobiography Treasure in Clay, Archbishop Sheen acknowledged having faults, including vanity and a comfortable lifestyle.

“I consider everything waste except knowing Christ,” he wrote.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Russell Shaw 211 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, and, most recently, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity.

17 Comments

  1. I remember watching in wrapped attention whenever Bishop Sheen was on TV. I was just a kid. He was a man of brilliance, dedication and holiness. We are blessed to have had him in our company.

    • Yes. Thank you.

      I fear (I could of course be wrong) that our contemporary bishops would rather submit to gossip than do what is right.

  2. Archbishop Sheen is the most recent of those put forth as Saints or even, in the case of Pope Saint John Paul II, “great” primarily because they are significant to right-wing Roman Catholics in the United States (G K Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, and C.S. Lewis also come to mind).

    Fulton Sheen was a notable man: an innovator and a visionary with immense communications skills. But he was also known as a heavy-handed (“dictatorial”) administrator, and (to quote Cardinal Spellman-no “snowflake”, he) “seriously lacking in empathy and pastoral skills.” He was also notable for being forced to resign his Bishopric after only 3 years.

    Thoughtful people cringed at the spectacle of a civil court battle between New York and Peoria over where his remains were to be permanently interred—-waged almost exclusively by the Roman Catholic right-wing fighting to elevate one of their exemplars. Ironically, while Sheen was theologically orthodox, he was very much a social progressive and held social gospel positions that many of those advocating for his Sainthood would find highly objectionable.

    The fact that the Vatican was forced to withdraw his cause for Sainthood due to accusations of mishandling of sexual abuse claims (he was not alone, see Cardinals Spellman and Cooke) has besmirched a good man worthy of praise and recognition.

    • Apart from anything else that’s wrong about your post – you can’t seriously be quoting Cardinal Spellman’s as an unbiased opinion of Archbishop Sheen’s character.

      “He was also notable for being forced to resign his Bishopric after only 3 years.”

      I have never seen anything that said he was forced to resign.

      “Ironically, while Sheen was theologically orthodox, he was very much a social progressive and held social gospel positions that many of those advocating for his Sainthood would find highly objectionable.”

      Or they’re not so filled with spite that they would ignore his holiness because they disagree with him about some things. Your argument appears to be “They only want him to be a saint because he was a faithful Catholic, and he was a “social progressive,” and they’re just too stupid to know that.”

      You appear not to grasp the simple fact that being theologically orthodox is what’s important. The best way to cure social ills is open to debate.

    • So leading many to conversion is evidence of a “lack” of empathy and pastoral skills? This is as foolish as the monotonous projection of a “right wing” or any political spectral thought onto religion, an assumed dialectic, wholly impossible given the fact that the Catholic faith is premised on the knowledge that truth is unchangeable because it is, by definition, the reflection of the immutable perfect mind of God.

      Neither is there such a thing as a “social gospel.” There are only obligations of corporal acts and virtues of mercy, which are always personal in nature, the reverse of what those seeking the morally undemanding and egocentrically convenient life through government idolatry.

      And no there was not a fantasy right-wing fighting a civil case over the internment of Sheen’s remains that caused the “thoughtful” to cringe. It was his family seeking to honor the Bishop’s expressed desire while Cardinal Dolan’s obstinate refusals to conduct himself with honorability bordered on the childish.

      And the Vatican was not “forced” to withdraw Archbishop Sheen’s cause. The accusations have no merit whatsoever.

  3. No, Archbishop Fulton Sheen is not a “right-wing” Saint opportunistically recognized for “political purposes”. The Marxist Poison of Universal Politicization of All Creation, Morality and Spirituality has been trying to dominate the Catholic Church for a long time but it has only been successful with the Political Pope, the Great Compromise Accommodator, Pope Francis Bergoglio. As you contradict yourself, both saying Bishop Sheen was “dictatorial” and then also saying “…he was very much a social progressive and held social gospel positions that many of those advocating for his Sainthood would find highly objectionable”. He was not a “social progressive” (an upside down, total deception political term) either, He was a True Catholic through and through, struggling with his fallen humanity like everyone else (whoever says I have no sin is a liar, 1 John 1:8).

    This, of course, makes all radical, socialist and Marxist, progressives, etc. to be epic liars as they de facto assume no sin ever and “instant sainthood” for their political beliefs and speak as if having “absolute unquestionable authority” while having none and then viciously attack any challengers. Bishop Sheen never did anything even remotely similar to this, as even after his tough management style was being called, he accepted his limitations and REPENTED, GREW and CHANGED, something that is absolute total heresy for political radicals. I invite you to read the totality of the report with a link in this article above to CNA, which is extremely factual, clarifying and sheds light on the fact that the “possible scandal” involving Bishop Sheen is a total fabrication.

    The crime at fault was serial ADULT abuse (especially the one against an elderly woman) committed by Father Gerard Guli. A despicable crime but no minors involved. Also, the Bishop then in charge that oversaw this scandal was Bishop Hogan, as admitted by even Fr. Guli himself. This are well investigated, verified facts, with plenty of witnesses, not a “Church cover up” of a “right wing” Bishop Sheen. I can speak for myself, directly knowing a case, and also for many on the Internet that have commented how their innocent priests have been “lynched” with false accusations and even when found innocent, have not been reinstated to appease the Political Marxist Monster. That’s what’s happening here with Bishop Sheen, plus the now Political Vatican, wanting to avoid such very high recognition for the American Church that will not blindly submit to their corrupt politics and therefore they loathe. What we really have in the Church is a Marxist-Homosexual Crisis. If you can’t see it, it’s right there, well hidden behind the Pachamama-Environmentalist Fabricated Crisis. It’s the human spiritual ecology that is totally rotting but we are “pontifically” forced to focus on animals and ecology. Until the Human Spiritual Ecology allows Jesus’ cleansing instead of false cleansing by hateful, accusing politics, all other ecologies are doomed (Romans 8:22).

    • So many words wasted without saying anything… Can you speak without resorting to buzzwords force-fed to you by the rotten corners of the Christian internet?

      • “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear”, (Jeremiah 5:21). Those who are voluntarily blind and deaf to Truth hate ANY Truth, whether is expressed very briefly or expounded in more depth and more clearly. I obviously hit a nerve you did not want hit. Good! Authentic Truth always has a way of doing that and my Only Lord Jesus Christ did it and does it ALL the time. Obviously, all Christian Truth, and especially Catholic Truth, is “rotten” to you. Yet only Truth makes you free (John 8:32), otherwise you are just a slave in a golden dungeon, whether you’re payed like an ideological mercenary by a billionaire or not payed at all.

        All you have left is TRANSFERENCE and PROJECTION of your life lived by “buzzwords force-fed to you”, meaning YOU. I have been thanked for my comments around in this website, a rarity around here (“buzzwords” would mean absolutely nothing to them), but, in a much greater way, it is comments like yours that prove that I must continue the course as the Lord Jesus guides me. I was one of you long ago, with all that obvious clonification attitude, and it was Relentless Catholic Truth that helped me out of that hate-filled, stubborn darkness. Never looked back but learned a lot about the facts, inner workings and evil reality behind it. Thanks and God bless you!!

  4. after years of investigation the Vatican cleared Abp Sheen of theses charges and the Pope decreed his canonization Dec 21st. We could have had a new Saint Bishop to intercede for the church and the nation sorely needed. The Bishops let down the faithful again. Totally unnecessary and malicious action of Bishop Malato and Cdl Dola and Cupicn who pushed the postponement with the Vatican. God have mercy on them, you mad me weep.

    • It is my understanding that a “saint” is a person who is in Heaven, and the Church believes/knows with certainty that said person is there. I am not entirely sure if said declaration is infallible, however.
      .
      There are undoutedly many, many beautiful souls in Heaven whose names we do not know–whom the Church has not given the designation of “saint”–who can be relied upon to interceed for us if only we ask. It is very possible that Bishop Sheen is one of them.
      .
      The Church does not “make” saints, only recognize them.
      .
      If you believe Bis. Sheen is there, ask for his intercession. The Vatican delay should not make any difference in that regard. I will say, however, that once again, the Vatican and hierarchy look very incompetent.

  5. Supposedly, one miracle has been investigated and accepted as valid. I understand that there may be others under investigation. Does the process of validation cease or continue. What if validated? Does this mean that all were validated by mistake by those who so validated them. Do they get thrown into the furnace of “Opps” or “let’s hope that no one asks”? I feel that this whole thing smells of politically correct overkill or perhaps, a bit of jealousy at Archbishop Sheen’s popularity and fame? Those, who point fingers, should beware of who is looking at them on earth and in Heaven. My reading of several saints, asks the question of just how, they would have stood up to these critics and selfish arrogant and uncharitable finger pointers? Robert J. Fallon

  6. I hope you wont think this is too strange a comparison but it was a life lesson for me. Years ago when I was very young the Olympics and the figure skaters made a great impression on us. Everyone know the great and glorious couple, Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner were favorite and certain winners. No question. Well at the very last minute a small muscle injury prevented their final performance. At the last someone in the crowd held up a sign that read “Randy and Tai, you are my GOLD” I realized you are what you are no matter what rightists or leftists or Bishops or whatever says. You are what you are. Bishop Sheen, you are my GOLD. I offered my Mass for His cause yesterday and at the consecration gold light shone all around. You are what you are. I understand his miracles continue!! “God Love you”

  7. In 1968, a Catholic priest from Rochester (who taught at the Catholic U of America in DC) orchestrated and led dissent to Pope Paul VI’s magnificent and prophetic Humanae Vitae. Though no longer allowed to teach Catholic theology, Father Charles Curran remains a CATHOLIC priest in good standing and teaches at Southern Methodist U.

    Guess who the bishop of Rochester was in 1968, who would appear to have failed to sufficiently discipline Curran?

    Any guesses?

    Sorry to say, Fulton Sheen.

    I have NEVER understood this, and I hope someone can explain it. Perhaps, I am terribly wrong, but it looks Archbishop Sheen was “asleep at the wheel.” Father Curran’s terrible example to other clergy appears to have had devastating consequences.

    • In 1968, there were not available the instantaneous means of communication that we enjoy today. It may no longer be possible for us today to know what Bishop Sheen knew about what Father Curran was teaching at the time, and when he knew it. Competent authorities would have to be consulted to know who was responsible for monitoring the teaching of a priest who was at the Catholic University of America, In Washington, D.C., far from Bishop Sheen.

      As far as Wikipedia knows, Father Curran is still a Catholic priest, but it is true that he has been stripped of his license to teach Catholic theology. I consider him beneath contempt for what he did in the 1960s, with his self-serving, egomaniacal pronouncements about his “methodology”. The man is not competent to recommend to you a toaster oven, let alone a path to eternal life.

      On the other hand, in the 1960s, you could buy Father Curran’s “A Catholic Priest Looks at His Outdated Church” at the local department store. I still have my copy. It lives upstairs, in non-archival conditions, far from the many Ignatius Press publications that have pride of place in my home.

    • Ok. Assuming that you are right and he was asleep at the wheel, will that mean that he was not holy. Saints are not recognized for competence, but for holiness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*