Cdl. Dolan Refuses to Release Body of Abp. Sheen

by Christine Niles  •  •  June 16, 2016   

"There is no rational reason for them to stand in the way of this man's becoming a saint"

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NEW YORK ( - The archdiocese of New York is refusing to permanently release the body of Ven. Abp. Fulton J. Sheen to the diocese of Peoria.

Sheen's niece and closest living relative, 88-year-old Joan Sheen Cunningham, along with other family members, filed a petition Monday with the New York Supreme Court asking that the body of the archbishop be moved to Peoria, Illinois so that his cause for canonization can continue. Ever since at least 2014, there's been a deadlock in Sheen's cause for canonization, with New York's Cdl. Timothy Dolan adamantly refusing to release the body, in spite of promises from his predecessor Cdl. Edward Egan that Sheen's remains would be sent to Sheen's hometown.

"I consider this more than unseemly," Cunningham's lawyer Steven Cohen said in response to the archdiocese's refusal. "Rome is in favor of (moving the remains). There is no rational reason for them to stand in the way of this man's becoming a saint."

Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, responded to the court petition in a statement issued Tuesday:

The archdiocese had asked that the Diocese of Peoria officially reopen the cause, with the understanding that the archbishop’s earthly remains would then be sent to Peoria for a beatification ceremony as soon as one was announced, and then returned after an appropriate time to the crypt beneath the high altar of Saint Patrick's. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome tells us all that is holding up the cause is the letter from the Bishop of Peoria reopening the cause he closed two years ago.

Zwilling claimed Cunningham herself had agreed to this compromise. But Cunningham's lawyer rejects the claim.

Cunningham and her siblings "are not in favor of nor did they consent to the shuffle plan," he asserted." I have no idea where the Archdiocese got that idea but it's not correct."

The Peoria diocese is also objecting to Zwilling's characterization of where Sheen desired to be buried. Attorney for the Peoria diocese Patricia Gibson says it's not true that Sheen wanted to be entombed in the crypt beneath St. Patrick's Cathedral, where his remains currently lie. Instead, his will explicitly states he wanted a simple burial plot at Calvary Cemetery in New York, and that his family is doing nothing out of the ordinary — simply asking to "transfer the remains of a loved one for a laudable purpose."

Sheen's body only ended up at St. Patrick's at the request of Cdl. Terence Cooke, then head of the New York archdiocese.

Gibson says Peoria is willing to send back a relic of Abp. Sheen to be kept at the New York cathedral, but no more than that.

Bishop Daniel Jenky opened the cause for Sheen's canonization in 2002 after assurances by Cdl. Egan that Peoria would get the archbishop's body. After years of effort and at great expense, the cause was abruptly halted in 2014 when Cdl. Dolan refused to honor Cdl. Egan's wishes, insisting the body remain in New York. Without the body, the cause for canonization cannot move forward.

"It is with immense sadness that the Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky ... announced today that the Cause for Sheen's beatification and canonization has for the foreseeable future been suspended," the diocese had announced in 2014.

According to Cunningham's Monday petition to the New York Supreme Court, "Through the dedication and hard work of Bishop Jenky, [Cunningham], and myriad other individuals in Peoria, Archbishop Sheen's Beautification [sic] toward the path to Sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church is imminent."

"In the very near future," the petition continues, "the Vatican will direct that the beautification ceremony take place in Peoria since it has been the diocese to promote Archbishop Sheen's Cause for Sainthood in Rome. It is the desire of [Cunningham] and her siblings to transfer their uncle's remains to a marble crypt at the side altar in St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria."

Sheen served as auxiliary bishop in New York from 1951–66, when he was appointed bishop of Rochester, a position he held until 1969. He authored more than 65 books and was a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is best known for his award-winning TV show "Life Is Worth Living." When he passed away in 1979, he was among one of the most famous and respected Catholics in the United States.


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