The cause for beatification of Ven. Archbp. Fulton Sheen has been put on hold. Apparently, two dioceses have to settle their differences over the final disposition of the Venerable’s body.
The person or entity making the request that a cause be opened, the “Actor”, assume all responsibility for the expenses entailed in the cause, for the duration of the cause. In this the Actor seems to be a Foundation in the Diocese of Peoria, where Ven. Fulton grew up. However, in most cases when a cause is opened for a martyrdom, a person who lived a life of heroic virtue, or a miracle, the cause is located or handled in the place where the miracle took place or where the martyrdom occurred or, in the case also of non-martyrs, where the person died. The Congregation for Causes of Saints can, for a good reason, transfer a cause from the place where the servant of God died, to another diocese. For example, say that the profoundly holy servant of God Joe Bagofdonuts, born and raised and living and working for his whole life in the Diocese of Black Duck goes to visit his sister across the country in the Diocese of Mountweasel. Mountweasel, initially would have the right to the cause, but for obvious reasons, the Congregation would have Black Duck handle it. So, Peoria has great interest in Ven. Fulton, but he lived and worked and died in the Archd. of New York at Lennox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. At some point the cause was transferred to Peoria.
And so the dispute begins, because… well New York has the body and Peoria wants it.
NB: There may be some more information out there about what is going on, but this is what I have seen so far.
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The canonization cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen has been suspended indefinitely, according to a statement issued Sept. 3 by the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, where the archbishop was born.
The suspension was announced “with immense sadness,” the diocese said. “The process to verify a possible miracle attributed to Sheen had been going extremely well, and only awaited a vote of the cardinals and the approval of the Holy Father. There was every indication that a possible date for beatification in Peoria would have been scheduled for as early as the coming year.”
The diocesan statement said the Archdiocese of New York denied a request from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, to move the archbishop’s body to Peoria.
A Sept. 4 statement from Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the New York Archdiocese, said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York “did express a hesitance in exhuming the body” absent a directive from the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes and family approval. The statement added that Archbishop Sheen’s “closest surviving family members” asked that the archbishop’s wishes be respected and that he had “expressly stated his desire that his remains be buried in New York.” [So, it is not only the Archdiocese that has reservations.]
Zwilling said Cardinal Dolan “does object to the dismemberment of the archbishop’s body,” but, were it to be exhumed, relics that might have been buried with Archbishop Sheen might be “reverently collected” and “shared generously” with the Peoria Diocese. [We can assume that this means the vestments and other episcopal gear the late Archbishop was clothed in.]
If the Peoria Diocese’s decision is final to suspend Archbishop Sheen’s cause and to assign it to the Vatican congregation’s historical archives, Zwilling said, “the Archdiocese of New York would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause in an attempt to move it forward.” [Ah… the plot thickens.]
“After further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the congregation’s historic archive,” the Peoria diocesan statement said.
“Countless supporters especially from the local church in Central Illinois have given their time, treasure and talent for this good work with the clear understanding that the body of Venerable Sheen would return to the diocese,” the Peoria statement said. “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.”
Clearly this “change of mind” does not play well in Peoria.
Nor should it, if there was such an agreement. And, frankly, it is hard to image that there was not.
During the course of the cause there had to have been an official examination of the body of the servant of God, a recognitio, of his remains, their condition, their actual existence, he is in the grave and not someone or something else. At some point they would have had to hammer out the important question of where the body would be should the cause come to a positive conclusion and the beatification should take place. If Peoria had the cause, they would have wanted, also, the Blessed’s remains for veneration in their local church. It is inconceivable that this wasn’t worked out ahead of time.
The Church has a lot of experience in these matters and the process for a cause has been worked out over many centuries. Just about every imaginable contingency has, at some point or other, been dealt with in the past. In the case of Ven. Fulton, we have echoes of past experiences.
For example, we all remember from our history how, in late antiquity and especially in the medieval period it was important for a monastery or city cathedral to have the body or great relic of saint. This could mean serious pilgrim traffic and, therefore, prestige and economic advance. Everyone would want to travel to the monastery of St. Swithin-by-the-Slough on the Feast of St. Continentia. A market fair would be held. Goods would be traded, etc. For a bit of the flavor of this, try reading the interesting novel by Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth. Monasteries and cities fought over bodies of saints. St. Martin of Tours died halfway between Poitier and Tours. They were about to have a little war over the saints remains, but someone managed to steal the body. When St. Thomas Aquinas died, the Cistercian monks hide his remains so that they couldn’t be swiped. But, as it turns out, a French monk managed to nick the saint’s bones and take them back to Toulouse, where Thomas is today.
Thus, bickering over bodies is nothing new in this fascinating Church of ours. It is unsavory to see, but we have seen this movie before. And it ain’t the Bells of St. Mary.
Eventually this will be settled, when someone decides to give for the sake of the cause of Ven. Fulton. Until then, however, it is entirely proper and for the best that the cause be suspended.
Fr. Landry has a piece at the National Catholic Register about this. He adds more details. It is worth a look. HERE