N.Y. court again rules Archbishop Sheen’s remains can be transferred to Peoria

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured preaching in an undated photo. (CNS file photo)

The niece of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has again been granted the legal right to transfer her uncle’s mortal remains from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

The Diocese of Peoria reacted with “great joy” to the ruling in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham’s petition issued June 8 by Judge Arlene P. Bluth of the Supreme Court of the State of New York (New York County).  Arrangements for the transfer were under way when the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on June 15 indicated another possible appeal.

Archbishop Sheen — a priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gained international fame as a radio and television pioneer, orator, author, and supporter of Catholic missionary work — died in 1979. His body was placed in a crypt beneath St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Full texts of related press releases from the Diocese of Peoria:

June 8 — Court rules in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham

June 12 — Preparations begin to move Sheen to Peoria and response to statement of the Archdiocese of New York

In 2002, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and the Diocese of Peoria opened his cause for canonization. A diocesan news release on June 12 said that the Archdiocese of New York’s pursuit of civil litigation “blocks the advancement of the Cause,” based on information provided by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

“It is unimaginable that Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan, as well as the New York Archdiocese, will continue their legal resistance,” said the diocesan release, issued three days before the announcement of New York’s planned appeal. Noting that the cause has advanced to the point that a beatification ceremony for Archbishop Sheen — declaring him “Blessed,” the final step before canonization — could take place within months, the diocese called on New York to end “the unnecessary two-year legal dispute” delaying beatification.

“GOOD AND SUBSTANTIAL REASONS”

In her June 8 ruling, Judge Bluth said Cunningham offered “a sound reason and a laudable purpose for her petition” and that being declared a saint “would allow Archbishop Sheen to accomplish his highest calling — to reach as many believers as possible and to intercede on their behalf.”

“It makes no sense, given his lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church, that he would choose a location (New York City) over the chance to become a saint,” wrote Bluth. She had issued a similar ruling in 2016. The Archdiocese of New York appealed, and the case was returned to the Superior Court following an evidentiary hearing.

The Archdiocese of New York continues to maintain that the court cases have been “incorrectly decided” in regard to Archbishop Sheen’s personal wishes concerning his final resting place.

The Diocese of Peoria counters that such an argument has now been rejected by the court twice.

“Indeed, the court has determined that Joan Sheen Cunningham has good and substantial reasons to transfer the remains of her uncle in order to accommodate her belief that the transfer will advance the Cause” of Archbishop Sheen, according to the diocesan release.

The diocese cited rules established in 2017 by the Congregation for Saints Causes in Rome that state the wishes of the family regarding the earthly remains of a potential saint must be respected and that a cause can advance only when all civil litigation is resolved.

“Furthermore, in recent times, it is unprecedented that the remains are not located in the place where the work for a Cause was advanced,” added the diocesan statement.

Bishop Jenky continues to encourage all to pray for a “spirit of cooperation” in the efforts to beatify Archbishop Sheen, saying the declaration would bring “great joy to so many of the faithful, in New York, Peoria, throughout the United States and around the world.”

 

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