NEW YORK (CBS New York) — There’s a holy row over the body of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, a behind-the-scenes battle between New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Peoria, Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky over the beloved evangelist’s remains has gone public.
Sheen is buried in the crypt at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. But the Diocese of Peoria had been leading the campaign to make Sheen a saint and wants him relocated to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Illinois.
“He was ordained as a priest for that diocese,” said Deacon Greg Kandra, a Catholic blogger. “They’re the ones who launched this cause, pursuing it and financing it, getting support behind it, and they would like him to be there.”
On Wednesday, Jenky shocked the Catholic world by saying he was suspending the Sheen sainthood effort, blaming Dolan for allegedly breaking a promise to transfer Sheen’s body to Peoria.
“Countless supporters especially from the local church in Central Illinois have given their time, treasure and talent for this good work with the clear understanding that the body of Venerable Sheen would return to the Diocese,” a statement from the Diocese of Peoria said. “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. New York’s change of mind took place as the work on behalf of the Cause had reached a significant stage.”
In a statement, the Archdiocese of New York said there’s been a “dialogue” with Peoria, but no order from Rome to move the body.
“Discussions with Peoria centered on two areas: the possible exhumation and study of the body; and the possible collection of ‘first class relics’ of Archbishop Sheen,” the statement said. “Cardinal Timothy Dolan did express a hesitance in exhuming the body, unless the Congregation for the Causes of Saints directed that it be done, unless the process was approved by the family, that it be done modestly and reverently, and that the exhumation met the requirements of New York State law.”
Earlier this year, Sheen’s niece, Joan Cunningham, told Aiello the late archbishop wanted to be buried in New York and the family won’t move him. On Thursday, Cunningham said they are willing to allow relics from his coffin to be shared with the church in Peoria if that will restart the sainthood efforts.
The New York Archdiocese said it is willing to pick up the campaign for Sheen if Peoria refuses to resume it.
“I don’t know how this is going to be resolved,” Kandra said. “I think they’re going to have to decide to do what’s best for the church and best for the people of God.”
Sheen, who died in 1979, was a well-known TV personality. His wit and wisdom drew thousands to the Catholic church.
“There’s really, I think, what you could almost call a cult of Fulton Sheen that has grown up, and people are tremendously devoted to him,” Kandra said.
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