In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who became more popular than star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television and winning a following that was the envy Bible-thumping Protestants who thought mass media was their parish. Religion News Service file photo

In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who became more popular than star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television and who had a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants. Religion News Service file photo


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

NEW YORK (RNS) In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who outpolled star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television, winning two Emmys and a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants.

After his death in 1979, it was no surprise that Sheen would be pushed for sainthood. But now two bishops have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body: the Archdiocese of New York, where he is buried, or the Diocese of Peoria, where he was raised and ordained.

The fight between Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York erupted into public view on Wednesday (Sept. 3), when Jenky issued a statement blasting the New York archdiocese for thwarting Sheen’s expected beatification next year by reneging on an agreement to return the late archbishop’s body to Peoria.

“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,” the Diocese of Peoria said in a statement.

The statement said that senior Vatican officials were set to approve a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intervention — the revival after an hour of a stillborn baby — clearing the way for him to be beatified in a few months, the final step before formal canonization, which would require a second miracle.

Rome expected that Sheen’s body would be transferred from the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried, to Peoria to collect relics from the body, the Illinois diocese said. Peoria has been in charge of Sheen’s cause for canonization since it was opened in 2002. In 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen “venerable,” a requisite first step before beatification.

Preaching at a Holy Year service conducted by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in the new Louisiana Superdome, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen addresses a crowd in excess of 75,000 in 1975. Religion News Service file photo

Preaching at a Holy Year service conducted by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in the new Louisiana Superdome, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen addresses a crowd in excess of 75,000 in 1975. Religion News Service file photo


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But the Archdiocese of New York denied Jenky’s request to move the body and “after further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.”

In other words, Sheen’s cause for sainthood has been indefinitely suspended — an outcome that left Jenky “heartbroken” and apparently fuming, judging by the tenor of the statement and the fact that he went public with his complaint against Dolan.

On Thursday, the Archdiocese of New York rejected Jenky’s claims and said it would be happy to take over Sheen’s cause if Peoria balks.

Dolan’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, noted in a statement that Sheen’s own wish was to be buried in St. Patrick’s and that his closest surviving relatives also want him to remain there.

Zwilling said Peoria and New York officials focused on two areas: exhuming Sheen’s body and collecting so-called first-class relics — any remaining locks of hair or parts of Sheen’s body.

While Sheen’s family did agree to exhumation, “regarding first-class relics, Cardinal Dolan does object to the dismemberment of the archbishop’s body,” Zwilling said.

He said that it was Jenky’s decision to shelve Sheen’s cause and that if the Vatican approves, “the Archdiocese of New York would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause in an attempt to move it forward.”

How or whether this fight over Sheen can be settled is unclear. Dolan is a cardinal and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he has influence in the American hierarchy and in Rome that Jenky can’t match.

The Vatican department in charge of advancing Sheen’s cause of sainthood said in a statement Thursday (Sept. 4)  it “does not believe that this will be a lasting impediment.” But it added that “it depends upon negotiations between others.”

Then Bishop Fulton J. Sheen offers a word of encouragement to a resident at the Lakeshore Nursing home in Rochester, N.Y. Religion News Service file photo

Then Bishop Fulton J. Sheen offers a word of encouragement to a resident at the Lakeshore Nursing home in Rochester, N.Y., in 1968. Religion News Service file photo


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Still, this sort of fight is bad publicity for the Catholic Church, and it’s hard to imagine that the American bishops would want to be seen as stomping on sainthood for a candidate like Sheen, who remains remarkably popular even decades after his death.

“We are incredibly saddened and confused by the Archdiocese of New York’s decision to not cooperate with the Sheen Foundation on the cause,” said Bonnie Engstrom, whose son, now almost 4 years old and thriving, was stillborn during a birth at the family’s home in Goodfield, Ill., which is part of the Peoria diocese.

When the baby — named James Fulton Engstrom — was born with no pulse, Bonnie Engstrom just sat on her bedroom floor saying Sheen’s name over and over. “That was about as close to a prayer I could get,” she told the National Catholic Register. Her husband, Travis, performed an emergency baptism while waiting for the ambulance, and even at the emergency room the baby was not reviving. Some 61 minutes had passed since his birth and doctors were about to declare the infant dead when he started breathing like a healthy newborn.

The parents were warned that he would have suffered serious organ damage from the lack of oxygen, but he has been fine. Last March, a seven-member team of medical experts gathered by the Vatican concluded there there is no natural explanation for the child’s survival. The cardinals in Rome were expected to confirm it as a miracle attributable to Sheen’s intervention.

Sheen stood out among Catholic clergy almost from the time he was ordained in 1916.

He was a star student in theology in Europe and taught theology and philosophy for years at Catholic University of America in Washington.

He also had an appealing youthful appearance complemented by piercing eyes and a powerful voice, and the weekly Sunday night radio broadcast he began in 1930, “The Catholic Hour,” quickly became a hit. Sheen eventually had a weekly listening audience of 4 million people, and in 1946 Time described him as “golden-voiced” and “Catholicism’s famed proselytizer.”

The most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, then newly consecrated titular Bishop of Caesariana and auxiliary Bishop of New York, center left, appears with Pope Pius XII and a group of Americans after being received in special audience by the Pontiff in 1951. Religion News Service file photo

The most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, then newly consecrated titular Bishop of Caesariana and auxiliary Bishop of New York, center left, appears with Pope Pius XII and a group of Americans after being received in special audience by the Pontiff in 1951. Religion News Service file photo


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In 1951, Sheen moved on to television, then a brand-new medium. Sheen’s telegenic presence and smart, precise presentations drew up to 30 million viewers a week to his syndicated show, “Life Is Worth Living,” a remarkable number that bested Milton Berle.

Sheen was not as fortunate in his church career, however. He was made an auxiliary bishop in New York in 1951, serving under the powerful Cardinal Francis Spellman.

But the two had a falling-out in the late 1950s over Spellman’s claims on millions of dollars Sheen was collecting for charity. In a sign of Sheen’s prominence, Pope Pius XII sided with Sheen over Spellman, but the New York cardinal — who could not abide a rival — reportedly vowed to get even. He pressured Sheen to leave television and effectively exiled Sheen by naming him bishop of the Rochester diocese in upstate New York in 1966.

Three years later, with Spellman dead, Sheen resigned the Rochester post to focus on media evangelization. But his health began to suffer and he died in 1979 and was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Now, even in death, Sheen may not be free of his battles with bishops.

YS/MG END GIBSON

 

17 Comments

  1. Two men fighting over bones …
    Hmm … Why don’t they fight over who produces a MIRACLE that saves the children from sexual abuse? I guess there is not much money to be made in that—is there? But there may be some in deceiving them to believe in your ‘holy father’ titles …

    Sheen … now there’s name that says a lot. Another high ranking official with “all the right stuff” … and he didn’t know about the sexual abuse, either?

    Peace and Love

    • No problem. Just do what people did when Martin of Tours died. Each town claimed to have the original boy of Martin. Sheen would have no problem with that. Just have to decide which town will have the RCA commercials.

  2. re: “But now two bishops have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body.”

    This has to be the silliest thing I have heard in a long time, which, sigh, is saying a lot.. Sheen, rightly, would have ripped this to pieces.

    Of course, they are all just people with pointed silly heads. I do wish these “leaders” would actually shepherd and learn to breathe free.

    Now that, people could model.

  3. People love a folksy, homey storyteller like Sheen. It predates religion, of course – and there have been great story tellers ever since godless Gilgamesh, Homer’s Illiad ever since the Aesop’s fables of ancient times.

    It is best if there is a moral to ponder or a humanitarian angle.

    Modern Christian motivational speakers like Billy Graham, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the perfect example of this in modern times. Sheen was the first to use the radio – so it was good match.

    Any story coming from the Bible has to be ‘interpreted’ and edited and nipped and tucked to make it workable – because the God of the bible is a wild monster and most passages are worthless.

    Here are a few Bible stories Sheen never told:

    WOMEN SHOULD BE EXPECTED TO LUST FOR WILD SEX
    “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” (Ezekiel 23:20)

    GOD SAYS – CUT OFF YOUR WIFE’S HAND IF SHE TOUCHES ANOTHER MAN’S PENIS.

    “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and SEIZING HIS GENITALS, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” – DEUT. 25:11
    Cut off your wife’s hand? Show no pity?
    JESUS AGREES! (JOHN 1:17), (Mark 10:19)

    GOD THREATENS ARRANGING THE RAPING OF WIVES IN DAYLIGHT
    “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives [plural] while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall LIE WITH YOUR WIVES in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’ ” (2 Samuel 12:11)

    GOD HAS RULES FOR SEX SLAVES
    “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.” (Exodus 21:7)
    Selling your daughter for sex is okay by God!

    GOD SAYS GO AND KILL MORE – EVEN IF THEY SAY THEY ARE SORRY! :
    “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn’t help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight!” (JEREMIAH 15:1-7)
    JESUS AGREES! (JOHN 1:17)

    THE LORD SAYS, BE A GOOD SLAVE. DON’T RUN TO FREEDOM!
    AS THE LORD BLESSES PERVERSE SLAVE MASTERS
    “Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse.” (1 Peter 2:18)

    GOD RECOMMENDS FORCIBLE SEX WITH THE PRETTY SLAVES
    “When you go out to war…and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand… if you see a comely woman among the enslaved and become so enamored of her….you may take her home….you may have relations with her.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

    JESUS REINFORCES ALL OF IT
    “Jesus answered them, ‘I and My Father are one.’ ” (John 10:30-33)

    SORRY MR. SHEEN
    “For God scattered the bones of him who encamped against you” (Psalms 53:5)

    • Max, and you were doing so well …

      No, seriously, what I would not want to happen is for Evil to use this silliness to distract from WHAT REALLY NEEDS TO HAPPEN—helping the children— addressing that sexual abuse problem still active in these sectors … Evil is clever that way … gotta stay focused.

      Peace and Love

    • That’s because these are not stories, and you have not presented them in context.

      Ezekiel actually says the opposite of what you say it says, and the writings about slaves says nothing about sex slaves.

      It is telling that critics must stoop to the lowest mischaracterizations

  4. Cdl. Spellman as the metropolitan was not vested with the authority to appoint diocesan bishops. Bp. Sheen’s resignation in 1969 (at age 74, near to the standard retirement age for bishops, post-1965) was a consequence of his misbegotten tenure in Rochester (“bad fit”, a priest put it to me).

  5. This is a remnant of the nonsense politics of the saint business. The church should wise up and end the practice or relics, body veneration, and creating saints. It is a left-over of the hocus-pocus beliefs on ancient times.

    Consider all the sliver relics of the “true cross” attributed to the discovery of Augustine’s mother. If you could gather them in one place, say in Vatican City, you could rebuild that whole place in wood, statuary and all, and because it would be so mystical (magical), it would withstand all elements and efforts to destroy until the second coming.

    • gilhcan— “Consider all the sliver relics of the “true cross” attributed to the discovery of Augustine’s mother.”

      Augustine’s mother? What of Augustine’s children? Do these matter? Maybe they ought to look into this. There may be a “saint” among them.

      And Thomas Merton … who likely broke every monkey rule in the Trappist Order (and I love him for it :) Do you think he may have a child somewhere? Well, actually, he does … so I should say: Do you think he has a “son” somewhere? Not planting rumors or anything … but one should really pay attention to the more detailed portfolio, if looking into sainthood for religious/money-making purposes. Why focus on the dead when you can have the Living?

      Peace and Love

      Peace and Love

      • As it happens, Augustine and his long-time mistress did have one son, who he acknowledged and loved deeply. Unfortunately the boy died relatively young. Augustine recounts all of this in his “Confessions.” He came fairly late to Christianity and was pretty open about his story.

        • Lin Jenkins,

          You have read Augustine? Then you are familiar with his theology on Eternal Punishment and Original Sin.

          Are their children from his earlier career?

          Peace and Love

    • It was the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, who supposedly found the true cross when, at the age of 80, she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Eusebius is her chronicler.

      Augustine’s mother, Monica, followed him around Africa & Italy, praying for him and generally annoying him. He actually took ship late at night to go to Italy without her knowledge, but she simply hopped onto the next one. (All of the above is from Augustine’s Confessions.)

      Helena Is supposed to be the patron saint of Archaeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, empresses, and Helena, the capital of Montana. (She was divorced against her will by her husband, Constantius, who had the chance to marry the step-daughter of the Emperor,)

      Monica is supposed to be the patron of Alcoholics, Married women, and Mothers. I don’t think one has to fit all 3 descriptions to qualify for succor.

    • “This is a remnant of the nonsense politics of the saint business. The church should wise up and end the practice or relics, body veneration, and creating saints. It is a left-over of the hocus-pocus beliefs on ancient times.”

      Let us now consider on what grounds our adversaries affirm that the immensity and long duration of the Roman Empire are gifts of those gods whom, they insist, they have honorably worshipped by the homage of infamous plays performed by the ministrations of infamous men. I would like to find an answer to this question: Is it reasonable and wise to glory in the extent and greatness of the Empire when you can in no way prove that there is any real happiness in men perpetually living amid the horrors of war, perpetually wading in blood? Does it matter whether it is the blood of their fellow citizens or the blood of their enemies? it is still human blood, in men perpetually haunted by the gloomy spectre of fear and driven by murderous passions. The happiness arising from such conditions is a thing of glass, of mere glittering brittleness. One can never shake off the horrible dread that it may suddenly shiver into fragments.

      In order to be perfectly clear on this point, we must not be carried away by hollow verbal blasts and allow our judgement to be confused by the high-sounding words of prattlers about nations, kingdoms, and provinces …

      Augustine of Hippo CITY OF GOD: Divine Justice and Growth of the Roman Empire

      Peace and Love

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