Diocese remains confident as Sheen legal case returns to original New York court

The New York court has granted Joan Sheen Cunningham the right to remove the remains of her uncle, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (pictured), from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for transfer to St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria.

The Diocese of Peoria remained confident that legal issues surrounding the transfer of the remains of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen from New York to Peoria will soon be resolved after the New York Court of Appeals on Feb. 6 sent the case back to the original court for an evidentiary hearing.

“Please continue your prayers for the success of these legal issues and for the Cause of Canonization for our brother, Venerable Fulton Sheen,” said Msgr. James E. Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, in an update to the diocese’s priests sent Feb. 7.

“We are confident that the new hearing and ruling will be completed in short time,” added Msgr. Kruse, predicting the ruling will be in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham, Archbishop Sheen’s niece and closest surviving relative. Cunningham is seeking to have the remains of the famed orator and media pioneer removed from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and transferred to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, where a crypt is being prepared for his re-interment.

The transfer of his remains is seen as a key factor in the continuing progress of his sainthood cause, promoted by the Diocese of Peoria since 2002.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth had granted Cunningham’s request in late 2016, but the Archdiocese of New York appealed the decision. A hearing before the New York Court of Appeals took place last Oct. 10.

In its 3-2 decision issued Feb. 6, the Court of Appeals reversed the 2016 decision and called for an evidentiary hearing solely on disputed issues regarding Archbishop Sheen’s own burial wishes.

Msgr. Kruse said Cunningham’s attorneys — working closely with Patricia Gibson, diocesan chancellor — “are very confident the new hearing will end in re-affirming the original ruling.” He pointed out that Justice Bluth, who had already addressed the discrepancy in Cunningham’s favor, will preside at the evidentiary hearing.


Archbishop Sheen’s heroic virtue and life of sanctity were recognized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, who granted him the title “Venerable.” With progress already made and pending the approval of Pope Francis, diocesan officials believe a beatification could take place relatively soon after the anticipated arrival of the remains at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Archbishop Sheen, who won the 1951 Emmy for outstanding television personality for his show “Life Is Worth Living,” was born in the Woodford County community of El Paso on May 8, 1885, and moved with his family to Peoria so that he and his brothers could attend St. Mary Cathedral Grade School and Spalding Institute. He was ordained to the priesthood in the cathedral on Sept. 20, 1919.

After brief priestly ministry in Peoria he would go on to serve on the faculty of Catholic University of America for nearly 30 years and was national director of the Propagation of the Faith from 1950 to 1966.

A former auxiliary bishop of the New York Archdiocese, he was bishop of Rochester, New York, from 1966 to 1969 and was given the personal title of archbishop when he retired from that diocesan post. He is the author of dozens of books, including his autobiography: “Treasure in Clay.”

Archbishop Sheen died on Dec. 9, 1979.



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