NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a surprise development, the New York archdiocese has won its emergency petition to block removal of Ven. Abp. Fulton J. Sheen's remains to Peoria, Illinois.
Monsignor James Kruse, vicar general of the diocese of Peoria, spoke with Church Militant on the development. Speaking on behalf of the diocese, he expressed their "complete disappointment" in the New York archdiocese's decision "to draw this process out even longer."
"We hope that the transfer will still take place in time for Christmas, and we certainly are fighting the stay and fighting the appeal," he commenterd. "We're confident we will win the case."
The Peoria diocese was rejoicing in mid-November when Judge Arlene Bluth of the NY Supreme Court ruled that Sheen could be disinterred from the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral and moved to Illinois, ending a two-year deadlock between the archdiocese of New York and the diocese of Peoria, both of whom claim a right to the celebrated bishop's body.
The Monday before Thanksgiving, however, Cdl. Timothy Dolan filed an appeal of the court ruling, arguing among other things that Judge Bluth had misapplied state law. Dolan also asked the court to grant its request for an injunction, blocking Peoria from removing Sheen's body as long as the case was being appealed.
This Monday, the court granted the stay, which means Sheen's body may remain indefinitely in New York. The court has yet to issue a date on a hearing for a full stay, at which point the parties will discuss potential dates for Sheen's removal, or whether he will remain in New York for the time being.
According to Patricia Gibson, chancellor and attorney for the Peoria diocese, the hearing may not take place for two weeks, in which case Sheen may not be moved to Illinois in time for Christmas.
"We feel confident that they don't have enough grounds to overturn the judge's decision," Gibson told the Peoria Journal Star. "To prolong this is very disappointing, and the family is very disappointed."
John Callagy, representing the New York archdiocese, believes New York will win the appeal. "We are confident that we will present substantial reasons for the Appeals Court to overturn the initial decision," he said before Thanksgiving.
In 2014, Sheen's cause had come to a halt because Dolan was refusing to release the body, which lies in the crypt beneath St. Patrick's Cathedral — this in spite of the fact that Dolan's predecessor, Cdl. Edward Egan, had promised Bp. Daniel Jenky of Peoria multiple times that New York would send Sheen's body to Peoria. Jenky had started the cause for canonization in 2002, spending $1 million over the past 14 years relying on assurances from New York that it had no interest in advancing Sheen's cause and that New York would send his body to Peoria once his cause sufficiently advanced.
After fruitless meetings with Dolan and attempts to get the gridlock lifted over the course of two years, Sheen's closest living relative and niece — 88-year-old Joan Sheen Cunningham, with legal rights over Sheen's body — filed a lawsuit against the New York archdiocese seeking that her uncle's remains be moved to Peoria so his cause could advance.
In a scathing, 10-page order issued November 16, Judge Arlene Bluth rejected the New York archdiocese's arguments and ruled in favor of Cunningham, saying she had "good and substantial reasons" to have Sheen's body removed.
In light of the appeal of the court ruling, Gibson believes New York has failed to present any "new reason or information" to win on appeal, and is hoping Sheen's body will make it to Peoria in time for Christmas Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral, where a shrine is being readied for his remains.
Monsignor Kruse told Church Militant, "The diocese of Peoria has been very grateful for the outpouring of prayer for this whole process, and we continue to ask that more prayer be offered, especially as we approach the anniversary of Abp. Sheen's death on December 9. So we do ask for more outpouring of prayer."