Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Cardinal and the Corpse

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Several readers pointed out that I recently (September 6th) reposted the content of an earlier entry (August 25th) on the History of the Anglican Church during Elizabeth’s reign and her struggle with the Puritan faction.  I am sorry—I had lost track of where I was in the saga and will continue in my next posting to pick up where I had left off.  But today I want to address the latest tempest in our Catholic Pot of Tea—the tale of the Cardinal and the corpse. 
It seems that the cause for beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the famous media evangelist of the 1950’s and early ‘60’s, has come to a halt because Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, will not allow the remains of the Archbishop to be exhumed from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral where they rest in the crypt of the Archbishops of New York and be sent to the Diocese of Peoria, Sheen’s hometown, which is overseeing the process of having Sheen declared a saint.
Normally—and the operative word is normally, there are exceptions—in the process of beatification and canonization, the remains of the candidate are identified and relics are collected from the remains.  There are exceptions.  Saints like Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe who died in the Nazi Concentration Camps were cremated and no remains were available.  Blessed John Henry Newman’s body had totally decomposed leaving not even fragments of bone due to the type of soil with which the grave had been filled.  Various other saints, especially from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been—as was the custom of the day—buried in lye which left no remains.  Many saints from the Middle Ages or early modern period had had their bones deposited in charnel houses where they could not be distinguished from the hundreds of others whose remains had also been put there.  There is no hard and fast rule about needing to examine the remains or to collect the relics.
The Archdiocese of New York has said that they are not willing to have the remains removed to Peoria because it was the wish of the Archbishop, and it continues to be the wish of his surviving family, that he be buried in New York.  Bishop Sheen, like the late Joan Rivers, was Showbiz personified in death as well as in life.  Peoria, on the other hand, would like to have the remains which they had planned to inter in Peoria Cathedral where Sheen was ordained a priest in 1919.  The Peoria Chamber of Commerce would also like the remains to be placed in the Cathedral as it would not only draw the devout to their lovely but oft-neglected city, but also be a magnet for fans of the preternatural because, believe me, the Bishop’s Ghost would haunt the site until his remains were returned to the Archbishops’ Crypt in New York. 
The late Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, dean of the American Catholic historians, in his gossipy Catholic Bishops: a Memoir, relates how Sheen broke down in sobs the morning he read in the papers that Francis Spellman had been named Archbishop of New York.  It had been Sheen’s ambition that he would one day succeed to that See.  Denied the honor in life, he was consoled by the promise of Cardinal Terrence Cooke that he could be buried in the crypt reserved for the New York Archbishops beneath the altar of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. 
Cardinal Dolan is being blamed by the Katholic Krazies for sabotaging the cause for Archbishop Sheen’s beatification.  It is just another indication of how evil this prelate is—talking to President Obama, letting homosexuals march in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade: is there no end to this man’s dastardly conduct?  In fact, the story seems to be a bit more complicated. 
The New York Archdiocese has said that while short of instructions from Rome it would not release the remains of the Archbishop Sheen to Peoria, but that it would not hinder the process of beatification.  When the Roman Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, the dicastery responsible for the process of beatification and canonization, has informed the Archdiocese that the proper time had come to take the step, the remains could be identified in New York and relics collected from them before the body was returned to the crypt in Saint Patrick’s.  This offer did not satisfy Bishop Jenky of Peoria who suspended the process indefinitely.  There were assurances that the suspension had nothing to do with any new disclosures that undermined Bishop’s Sheen’s character or orthodoxy.
I suspect to the contrary.  Unless Bishop Jenky is just so determined to have the remains in Peoria that he will not move forward without possessing them, there is something here that is not quite right.  The examination of the remains could take place in New York.  The Archbishop should certainly be allowed to have his remains rest in the place of his choice.  It sounds like there is some problem that could stop the cause and this squabble over the remains is a diversion to explain what might otherwise be more embarrassing.  Whatever the issue is, however, it does not detract from the incomparable work that the late Fulton Sheen did in brining the faith—and not only the Catholic Faith, but religious faith in general—to millions of people in his day.  If the popular cult for the Archbishop continues to grow, the beatification will happen whether his remains remain in New York or he sent home to the city from which as a seminarian he could not wait to escape.  


  1. I swore I heard a long time back that Sheen's remains were not properly interred at the time of his burial. In the weeks following his interment, apparently quite a stink arose from the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral. I can't seem to verify this anywhere, but just a little tidbit for you. Guess he's not incorrupt...

  2. I was actually among the first to view Bishop Sheen's body as it lay in state in the Lady Chapel of Saint Patrick's prior to his funeral. And I do mean among the first--even before his family. It seemed at the time to have been properly embalmed and I had never heard any stories of problems with the atmosphere in the crypt, but let me do some homework on this. I have a source or two who might be able to tell me something.