Everyone knows by now that the beatification of Archbishop Sheen, which was expected to take place as early as next year, has been suspended. In fact, according to Daniel Jenky, the bishop of Peoria, Illinois, who is in charge of Sheen’s cause, the whole process is being relegated to the Vatican’s historic archives. Why? Jenky blames the Archdiocese of New York, because it won’t release the Archbishop’s body to Peoria. So, apparently, does almost everyone else.
NBC News: Move to Canonize Fulton Sheen Hits snag: Request to release body denied.
Over at Creative Minority Report: “The Cause For Archbishop Sheen Suspended Because Cdl. Dolan Refuses To Transfer Body.”
Even the National Catholic Register:
New York Archdiocese Stalls Fulton Sheen Canonization Process
Tradtionalist-minded comboxes are going crazy. The venom against Cardinal Dolan there is incredible. (Exasperated, of course, by his agreement to serve as Grand Marshall of next year’s New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in spite of the fact that for the first time a gay group’s banner will appear there. But that’s a whole post in itself).
This is a complex and tangled tale. Let’s look at the history.
For almost 34 years since his death in December 1979, Fulton Sheen’s remains have lain in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the diocese where he was for some years auxiliary bishop. It was apparently Sheen’s own wish that he be buried in New York, and his surviving family members support this. But Dolan’s predecessor Cardinal Egan, was not interested in pursuing Sheen’s cause. In 2002, the bishop of Sheen’s native diocese, Peoria, Illinois, Daniel Jenky, undertook the diocesan cause for his beatification, which does involve considerable expense.
This story is from 2010, 4 years ago, the first time Jenky called a halt to the canonization. It seems that Jenky insisted then that in 2002 the NY diocese agreed to transfer the body, and that he accepted the labor of pursuing the cause on that understanding that Sheen’s remains would be buried in Peoria. We have only Jenky’s word that this understanding took place. But the story also said that “negotiations” continued for the following nine years. Why negotiate if the matter was settled? Jenky doesn’t say. The actual statement Jenky released in 2010 says he was giving up the cause because New York would not agree to the transfer. It seems that Jenky was eventually forced to continue the cause because of the public outcry.
According to yesterday’s press release by Bishop Jenky: “The Holy See expected that the remains of Venerable Sheen would be moved to Peoria, where an official inspection would take place, and first-class relics be taken. Subsequently the Archdiocese of New York denied Bishop Jenky’s request to move the body to Peoria. After further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.” He says that the Archdiocese of New York made repeated promises to allow the transfer of the body, but admits he has nothing in writing.
The Vatican technically calls the moving of a saint’s body prior to beatification by the Latin term translatio or transfer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the body has to travel outside the city of burial, but it usually does mean moving to a new burial place, even if it’s within the same church (we saw this when John Paul II was beatified; his body was moved from the crypt to the nave of St. Peter’s). At the same time, the identity of the body will be verified, and some first-class relics will be taken for veneration at the beatification ceremony.
I don’t think the Vatican particularly cares exactly where a saint is buried, but they insist that the canonical norms for the translatio must be followed. Apparently canon law does state that inspection and the taking of relics be done from the diocese where the cause originated, in this case, Peoria. If so, then there is a problem, because Dolan is committed to keeping the body in New York. [Update: I originally wrote this because I heard it on EWTN. Actually, it's not true. I looked it up, and the latest canonical regulations from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, simply state that the bishop in charge of the cause is responsible for taking the relics; they say nothing about where this must be done. Significantly, the regulations do say that if the bishop desires the body be transferred from another diocese, he must get that bishop's permission. Evidently Bishop Jenky asked and Cardinal Dolan refused. However, it is not a canonical requirement that the body be moved, and it is mystifying that Jenky would insist that the cause be shut down because of it. You can read the regulations here]. Whatever the canonical requirements might be Bishop Jenky has long desired to have Sheen’s body in Peoria, because he wants to build a national shrine to the Archbishop there.
As I was writing this today, a statement was released by the Archdiocese of New York.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen expressly stated his desire that his remains be buried in New York, a request that was granted by Cardinal Terence 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 reference to dismembering the body would strike non-Catholics as strange, even horrific. But in the Middle Ages, this was standard procedure. Then, the solution to a dispute like this would have been to remove Archbishop Sheen’s heart (or some other part) and send it to Peoria for the new shrine, and keep the rest in NY. Cardinal Dolan is against this, as I think, most modern Catholics would be. The other first-class relics he is not opposed to taking probably include hair and fingernails; removing them would not impair the integrity of the body. There is no hint here that he would be opposed to the taking of other relics, and the Archdiocese insists they are not disobeying any requests by the Holy See. Is this true? Is the canonical requirement of the relics being taken in Peoria insuperable? [Update: No]
The statement adds, significantly, that if Bishop Jenky cannot continue the cause, New York will be glad to take it up. If the diocese of New York gains control, they might then take control of the proper distribution of relics. [update: Perhaps we can read here regrets by Egan and Dolan that they weren't in control all along?].
Who is in the right? I don’t know that there is an easy answer, but let’s not put all the blame on Cardinal Dolan. [Update: Perhaps the bishop of Peoria is overreaching himself in his grand dreams for a national Shrine for Bishop Sheen].
The postulator of the cause in Rome now says he expects the halt to be temporary.
Dr. Andrea 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 said in comments made to CNA Sept. 4.
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,” they explained. “At this point, however, he cannot give a timeframe as it depends upon negotiations between others.”
Let’s pray that this is accomplished soon.