“A glorious note about the Church” is how Msgr. Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador introduced the subject of Archbishop Fulton Sheen when he passed away in 1979. “Bishop Fulton Sheen ended his days on this earth,” Romero told his flock in El Salvador. “He was more than eighty years old and after a meritorious life he has gone to receive his reward from the Lord. Let us pray for him.”
A much less 'glorious note' was sounded today, when the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, which was in charge of Archbishop Sheen’s sainthood cause, announced via a press release that the canonization process would be suspended because the Archdiocese of New York would not release Archbishop Sheen’s body to Peoria for an official inspection to be made and first class relics to be taken. The Archdiocese of New York responded via a dueling press release that the Vatican had not requested the body to be moved and, in any event, Archbishop Sheen’s will and the Sheen family were opposed to his body’s relocation.
The decision to indefinitely suspend Archbishop Sheen’s canonization cause is particularly lamentable because the process had been reportedly advancing “extremely well,” with a miracle attributed to the Venerable Sheen about to be approved and every indication that a possible beatification date could be set as early as the coming year. According to a report in Vatican Insider, the Bishop of Peoria “responded drastically to the decision of the Big Apple’s diocesan authorities not to allow the transfer of the body buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” According to that report’s analysis, “The monsignor’s decision intends to put pressure on New York, sending out a message that more or less goes like this: if you refuse to let us have Sheen’s remains we will halt the whole thing.”
Vatican Insider predicted that the decision will be compared to other instances when external considerations disrupted the smooth progress of other beatification causes. Devotees of Archbishop Romero will certainly be able to relate, and empathize with Archbishop Sheen’s followers who may be feeling disheartened today. To them, we can say what the Holy Father Pope Francis said to us: we “must have faith that the canonization … is proceeding at an appropriate speed.” Faith. That’s exactly what you need. In fact, many of the Church’s processes can be seen through the lens of politics and palace intrigue, but we must have faith that God does not abandon our Church. That is why a canonization process can draw us closer and to adhere more faithfully to our Church.
In the meantime, to our reverend Lord Bishops: Excellences, Eminences, for shame! Really— speaking to each other through press releases? Exercising the “nuclear option” on a saint’s cause in order to gain a tactical advantage in the negotiations over his relics? Nobody is coming off in a particularly angelic light here. Not the Big Apple. Not Peoria. And, worst of all, not the canonization process or the dignity of Holy Mother Church.