It was reported this week that the cause for the canonization of Bishop Fulton Sheen, known in the 1950s as the TV Priest for his awarding-winning and widely-watched television show “Life is Worth Living,” had been mysteriously halted.
There was no immediate reason given for what can only have caused confusion and concern among faithful Catholics who have fond memories of watching Sheen on network TV long ago and who have been eager to see him recognized as a Saint in Heaven by the Catholic Church.
Some, no doubt, thought something unseemly may have come up in the process and that Sheen could not be “raised to the Altars.”
Turns out it is a fight about the body. The Diocese of Peoria wants it, and so does the more powerful Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan–who faces criticism this week for blessing LGBT marchers in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In a statement released yesterday, the Archdiocesan spokesman said it was the wish of Sheen and his family that he be buried in St. Patrick’s Catholic and that they were only carrying out the wishes of the family. It is common in these situations to disinter the body for various reasons, including to find out if the body has not corrupted. There is a whole cult within the Catholic Church regarding the uncorrupted bodies of Saints.
However, it is also common to take certain portions of the body to be used as relics. This would include bones, fingernails, and hair–considered “first-class” relics–and then “second-class” relics such as clothing worn by the Saint. These items are used in venerating the Saint.
The Archbishop of New York said they are fine with exhuming the body for those purposes but still seems resistant to moving the body to Peoria, where they seem to fear they will never get it back. The Archdiocese says they are waiting instructions from Rome. In the meantime, the cause for Sheen’s canonization is halted over this rather unseemly tug of war.
In-the-know, old-time New York Catholics will see this as ironic, since during his life he was not much loved by his New York superiors–who shunted him aside as often as not.