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Transparency and the mystery of Ven. Fulton Sheen’s postponed beatification

The unfortunate absence of transparency from Church leadership on this situation leaves the laity in an awkward situation, if not a scandalous one.

U.S. Archbishop Fulton Sheen is pictured in an undated file photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Pontifical Mission Societies)

In a recent interview with America Media, Pope Francis — in response to a question about transparency and clergy sexual abuse — remarked: “If there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

This is a lesson the Church has learned all too painfully, especially since the outbreak of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and resurgence in 2018. And the need for transparency emerges in a variety of other areas as well.

One of particular significance is the cause for beatification of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen — a beatification that was scheduled to be held three years ago on December 21, 2019, and which hasn’t happened still.

And, cloaked in confusion and intrigue, there has been no effort to clarify exactly what happened to cause the beatification’s extraordinary and surprise “postponement.” Indeed, less transparency is a mistake.

Despite a flurry of attempts from various Church leaders and observers to explain the postponement at the time, more answers are needed now, three years on.

Aside from the rumors and conspiracy theories in late 2019 — which naturally arise when there is an information vacuum — the only concrete explanation offered then by an ecclesiastical authority came in a statement from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, which acknowledged a request on their part for further examination of Sheen’s record on handling claims of abuse against some Rochester priests during his brief tenure as diocesan bishop there.

This request seemed to arise from concerns related to a state-wide report expected from New York’s attorney general relating to clergy sexual abuse.

Here’s the thing, though. Wouldn’t the miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession warrant and necessitate his beatification regardless of any behavior that may or may not be uncovered from Rochester or elsewhere? It was proven that Sheen lived a life of heroic virtue, as attested to by Pope Benedict XVI’s designation of Sheen as “venerable” in 2012. And we know a miracle attributed to his intercession has been proven and was approved by Pope Francis in 2019.

When a miracle is approved, but a cause is effectively put on ice this way, consequences arise that even begin to call into question the entire beatification process. At the very least, wouldn’t some answers be given to help avoid that?

Precisely because of these consequences, the delay of Sheen’s beatification is a cause of concern for the whole Church, not just those devoted to Sheen. We must hear why the precedent set by this decision is good for the faithful, good for the integrity of the canonization process and good for the Church.

Some might point to the beatification’s postponement as evidence that the canonization process maintains its integrity. This is all well and good. But if that is the case, then why are decisions made so secretly? Why are the faithful — who have been told Sheen was a man worthy of our veneration for his life of holiness and virtue — left in the dark as far as the current status of his cause is concerned?

And what does this mean for the entire beatification and canonization process in general? If the pope has said God acted through Sheen’s intercession, how can we keep God’s action arrested as it has been with the postponement of his beatification?

Meanwhile, rumors swirl on, but no answers have come from the Holy See or elsewhere. And bishops remain mum on the topic. And, apparently, the laity are expected to also keep quiet.

As we enter into the fourth year of waiting for answers, and the status of Sheen’s cause remains unclear, the unfortunate absence of transparency from Church leadership on the situation leaves the laity in an awkward situation, if not a scandalous one. The laity are left demanding answers to questions that matter, yet again — which in all honesty is only to the benefit of the integrity and credibility of the Church itself.

It was Sheen himself — ironically? — who prophetically said years ago: “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.”

Perhaps begging for the transparency called for by Pope Francis last month is a good place to start? Let’s pray and hope he can lead by example and bring some resolution to this regrettable episode and to the questions swirling around the entire saint-making business itself.


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About MIchael R. Heinlein 9 Articles
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV's SimplyCatholic.com and author of a forthcoming biography of Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI.

22 Comments

  1. Perhaps a plenary council of the laity should assemble, investigate the cause and declare Venerable Fulton J. Sheen a Saint in their eyes.

    My take on what went down regarding Sheen’s advancement to sainthood is that politics trumped charity.

    • Deacon, the last thing Anti-Catholic Rome SinOdites need now is for Catholics to be presented with a Saint and Very Astute Catholic Bishop’s Words, the antithesis of themselves? Why remind the World of the American Saint who predicted their terrible Apostasy?

    • Olá! Estamos empenhados em espalhar a devoção ao Venerável Fulton Sheen aqui no Brasil. Criamos uma página no Instagram(@ofultonsheen), grupos no whatsapp, telegram e um canal no youtube para divulgar seus escritos e pregações. Trabalhamos e rezamos para que a Igreja canonize esse santo homem de Deus. Rezemos!!!

      • Translate.google.com has:

        Hi! We are committed to spreading devotion to Venerable Fulton Sheen here in Brazil. We created an Instagram page (@ofultonsheen), whatsapp groups, telegram and a youtube channel to promote his writings and sermons. We work and pray that the Church canonize this holy man of God. Let’s pray!!!

  2. As much as I find Archbishop Sheen’s books very good — I have read about twenty of them — I am puzzled and very dismayed that in his book, Footprints in a Darkened Forest,” written about fifty-five years ago, he has a chapter totally endorsing Teilhard de Chardin. I cannot figure out what was going through the archbishop’s mind, since Chardin’s thought is anything but Catholic.

  3. B Sheen was an outspoken anti Communist.
    B Sheen said a false Church would rise up within the Church.
    A former Msgr pastor snorted on derision when the wife and I asked him about B Sheen’s book ‘Life of Christ’.
    B Sheen had the highest viewer rating for his TV show and was canceled bu a jealous homosexual Cardinal.
    B Sheen has been obstinately opposed by the glad handing Cardinal who approved homosexuality in the St Patrick’s Day parade while blocking Right to Lifers.
    The smoke of Satan has entered the Church thanks to JXXII and PVI …
    Crummy popes are sainted unmiraculously and a real saint is burned at the stake.
    Why are the pews empty?

    • Mr. Marshall, you nailed it. I would add to John Paul II to the list.

      And I wonder if beatifications and canonizations are even valid given that Paul VI and John Paul II redefined their very meanings. It’s one thing to change the process, it’s another to redefine the meaning of something so that its essence is changed.

    • Don’t mock the Holy Trinity and His Divine Triune Confirmation that the persons, even Popes, are in Heaven with Him….do not let satan tempt you into such a grave or deadly sin, let alone publishing it to the whole world….Advent Holiness and Blessings, Padre

  4. Didn’t the church mute him somewhat? This also happens in corporations where you have a gifted producer and speaker who tells the truth at meetings, they end up in some corner office with no responsibilities and a black eye.

    He is on Relevant radio on Sunday mornings, EWTN schedules etc… and a lot of his talks are quite relevant today

    • There is a website…FultonSheen.com…that inventories 300 of his talks. Many of the talks are free. The website is also offered in a downloadable app form. Great, convenient way to take in the simple, timeless wisdoms and richness he has to offer the flock he once shepherded!

  5. Bishop Sheen’s quote on the laity needs to be taken in the right context. To demand transparency may be necessary, but any attempt to seize power should raise a red flag.

    The laity cannot “save the Church” any more than the clergy can do so. How could we save or sanctify ourselves? Christ conquered sin and death once and for all. We are now totally dependent on the Holy Spirit to sanctify His bride, the Church.

    • Bishop Sheen never suggested or even implied that the Catholic laity should “seize power” from the Church’s prelates. Read a biography of St. Catherine of Siena who wrote many letters to two popes advising them how they should shepherd the Church. In these letters, she urged Gregory XI to avoid the counsel of certain Cardinals and to clean up corruption among the clergy. She even met with Gregory in Avignon in an attempt to broker peace with the Florentines and to urge him to bring the papacy back to Rome. During the Western Schism, Pope Urban VI called Catherine to his side to defend his legitimacy as pope. Although she may have word religious garb, Catherine was a layperson who felt called by God to bring reform and peace to His Church. I recommend “Catherine of Siena” written by the great novelist Sigrid Undset.

  6. Fulton Sheen is hated by the hierarchy of today for the same reason that Vincent Capodanno is hated by them. Homosexuals are extremely uncomfortable around confident, spiritual, masculine men, and today’s Church caters almost exclusively to the fragile sensibilities and obdurate behaviors of homosexuals. Add to that Sheen’s preaching against everything Bergoglio and his hacks promote, and you have your answer for the postponement.

  7. A lot of this is “inside baseball” to most of us laity but one thing is certain. It deprecates the Church and its mission. Even should the matter be resolved in favor with the proceeding of the beatification, the damage has been done. Whatever the decision by Rome, it is best done quickly and with a good deal more transparency than has been evidenced lately.

  8. Its unfortunate that the unexplained delay leads so to consider they might be investigating an accusation of some sort. I have issues with the concept of accusations made 30 years after the fact. In addition. Further, Bishop Sheen lived decades ago. He was a man of his time and accusations against priests were exceedingly rare. That a priest would betray his vows this way would doubtless have been unbelievable to Bishops in that era. Nothing much was known of the psychological state of such men. They did the best they could. Why would we expect a man from 1960 to act like a man from 2020 in the face of such accusations? Its too bad the church made the mistake of paying out cash awards for such accusations, which provides the unbalanced and the simply greedy with an incentive. If the church has no real reason to delay Bishop Sheen’s canonization now 3 years later, besides counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, they need to get on with it.Or, explain themselves.I would opine that the great good he did for the public would greatly outweigh and administrative errors dealing with accused priests.

  9. I don’t think the bar for sainthood is perfection. All I know is Fulton Sheen was the most effective evangelist of his time. He rubbed some in the Catholic hierarchy the wrong way. We could use more of his kind today.

  10. I have not the slightest idea as to why the cause of Ven. Fulton Sheen is stalled, if indeed has been stalled, or as to who is doing the stalling. Frankly, I prefer to leave protestations of omniscience to semiliterate combox trolls.

    But it is perfectly possible that the unfortunate matter of the fake doctorate which Fulton Sheen awarded for himself (that fake doctorate being entirely separate from his genuinely earned doctorate from Louvain) has weighed upon the minds of certain Vatican authorities, and has made them reluctant to hasten his progress to the altar. Far from being little-known, this uncharacteristic mendacity on Sheen’s part has been discussed at great length in Thomas C. Reeves’s diligent, critically praised 2001 tome America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen (pp. 66-69).

    I suppose it is just possible that combox trolls haven’t read or even heard of the Reeves book, just as several of them clearly haven’t mastered the basics of the English language. (The nuns from my childhood would have administered severe and justified corporal punishment to any clueless pupil who imagined that “Venerable sheen has all ready been added to my litany if saints” is a grammatical, correctly spelled English sentence.) But if they did read the Reeves book, they might learn something useful; and the frequent present-day conversational description of your magazine as “the Half-Catholic Woke Report” might cease to be widespread among your erstwhile champions.

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