I have tried to take all the information concerning the recent halt of Arbp. Fulton Sheen’s cause and compile it in a way that answers some of the most common questions I have seen popping up around the web. Please see my footnotes or leave a comment if you have a question on anything presented here.
Why did Bishop Jenky halt the canonization process for Arbp. Fulton J. Sheen?
Because they are not being given access to the body of Fulton Sheen. Specifically:
“On June 27, 2014, the Diocese of Peoria received the most recent communication from the Archdiocese of New York. This letter from its lawyer definitively stated that it would never allow the examination of the body, the securing of relics or the transfer of the body.” 1
After this communication, “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.” 2
The Archdiocese of NY will not allow the exhumation and examination, or the collection of relics without direction from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. 3
If orders are given from the Congregation, Arbp. Dolan agrees to allow the above steps to be taken so long as it is “approved by the family, that it be done modestly and reverently, and that the exhumation met the requirements of New York State law.” 4
Since the Congregation has not directed that NY exhume the body, it has not been done and the process was halted by Bishop Jenky officially on Sept. 3 2014 in a public statement. 5
Can’t Bishop Jenky proceed ahead with the cause without a first class relic and examination of the body?
During the course of the cause there has to be an examination of the body.
“Art. 2 – § 1. It is necessary to certify that the mortal remains of a Servant of God whose cause is in progress are authentic.” From CONGREGATION FOR THE CAUSES OF SAINTS, SANCTORUM MATER, INSTRUCTION FOR CONDUCTING DIOCESAN OR EPARCHIAL INQUIRIES IN THE CAUSES OF SAINTS
It should have come as no surprise to the Archdiocese of NY that the day would come when Peoria would need access to the body. The canonical norm is for the body to be examined in the diocese that opened the cause. However, the body could be examined in NY with the permission of the Congregation, though that would be outside the norm. Thus far, the Congregation has not told NY to allow or perform the examination in their diocese nor given orders for the body to be transferred to Peoria.
It is customary that first class relics are collected at this time.
For example, when Pope St. John XXIII was exhumed on Jan. 16, 2001, skin was taken as a first class relic. This relic was present during his recent canonization. 6,7
Currently there are no first class relics of Sheen in Peoria for the faithful to venerate.
It is important to note that even if New York took over the cause, as they have offered to do, Arbp. Sheen’s body would still need to be exhumed.
But Sheen wanted to be in New York and his family wants him there: can’t we just let him rest in peace where he is?
Bishop Sheen could never have foreseen Peoria taking up his cause, or the disagreement that has arisen over his remains. If we turn to his family for guidance we see in fact that both dioceses are in communication with family members. Several are on the board for his cause in Peoria. All would like to see the process move forward. If the Congregation and the Archdiocese of NY allows the examination and collection to take place in NY, the body could stay in St. Patrick’s while relics went back to Peoria. At this point, moving the cause forward is the motivating factor, not demanding Sheen’s body be moved in it’s entirety to Peoria.
However, Bishop Jenky asserts that, “In December 2004, Cardinal Egan again confirmed at a meeting in New York with Bishop Jenky that he continued to support the efforts of the Cause and reassured him that he would work to transfer the body at the appropriate time to be enshrined in the Peoria Cathedral.” 8
According to Bishop Jenky he 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.”9
The Archdiocese of NY disagrees with this statement, and has since they turned down the cause in 2010. 10
Why doesn’t Peoria let NY just take up the cause?
The Archdiocese of NY turned the cause down twice; once in 2002 and again in 2010. Since given Cardinal Egan’s blessing in 2002 and Cardinal Dolan’s support in 2010, Peoria has donated countless man hours towards Arbp. Sheen’s cause. They have done the hard work. Why after turning down the cause twice, does NY wish to pick it up now? Why is Sheen’s cause of value now and was not four or twelve years ago? There are at least three other causes ongoing in the Archdiocese, that of Servant of God Terence Cardinal Cooke, Servant of God Dorothy Day and Venerable Pierre Toussaint. ( Sheen is buried in the crypt at St. Patricks with Toussaint, but as of this post, unlike Toussaint, Sheen was not listed as Venerable on the Cathedrals website.)11 One has to wonder if the Archdiocese will protest the examination and collection of relics from these holy people.
Why shouldn’t Peoria be allowed the opportunity to have a saint? Peoria is willing to take first class relics back to their cathedral and allow the remainder of the body to stay in NY, thus giving the faithful two places in which to venerate Sheen.
I already think he’s a saint. What’s it matter whether the Church officially declares him one or not?
Official canonical recognition means:
1. The saint’s name is added to the catalogue of saints (meaning that
veneration is authorized)
2. The saint is invoked in public prayers
3. Churches may be dedicated in the saint’s memory
4. The Mass can be offered in the saint’s honor
5. Feast days are celebrated in the saint’s memory [i.e. he or she may be added to the universal calendar]
6. Images of the saint are made in which his or her head is surrounded by a
7. The saint’s relics (remains) are enclosed in vessels and publicly honored 12
For information on why relics are important to the Church visit Catholic Education.
If I believe that NY should allow the examination or the transfer of the body of Sheen, what should I do?
Pray and write letters to the Congregation. The Archdiocese of NY will only act at the Congregation’s direction.
2, 3, 4. http://www.archny.org/news-events/news-press-releases/index.cfm?i=34110