NY to Appeal Sheen Court Ruling

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 18, 2016   

Peoria diocese "stunned" by decision, calls it a "disgrace"

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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - Church Militant has confirmed that the New York archdiocese intends to appeal this week's court decision ruling that Ven. Abp. Fulton J. Sheen's body can be moved to Peoria, Illinois.

Steve Cohn, attorney for Joan Sheen Cunningham, who initially filed the court petition to have her uncle's remains moved, confirmed with Church Militant that he was "informed by the attorney for the archdiocese of New York that they will appeal and apply for a stay of this court's order."

Church Militant spoke with the vicar general of the diocese of Peoria, Msgr. James Kruse, who said Friday night he was "stunned" by the New York archdiocese's decision to appeal, and that it would be a "disgrace" if Cdl. Dolan were to follow through.

"I guess they're just interested in dragging this on and on and on," Msgr. Kruse said, "even though clearly the judge said there was no substance to their argument."

Cohn had told Church Militant Friday after the court ruling in his client's favor that he was speaking with the funeral company responsible for interring Sheen's body, and that it was in the process of securing the permits necessary to go forward with the disinterment. But if Cdl. Dolan wins his petition to stay the court order, the entire process would halt for as long as the matter is being litigated in court.

"All of our joys of getting this resolved even in the next few weeks is probably not going to happen now," Msgr. Kruse said.


"It's incredibly disappointing; it's disgraceful," he continued. "The cardinal needs to do the right thing for the good of the people, the good of the Church, really, the good of Fulton Sheen himself so that he can get on with doing the work of being a saint and even more so bringing blessings to people."

Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Peoria diocese, also weighed in. "I have heard indications that they will appeal but there is strong reaction that this move would cause great disgrace for the Church and would continue this battle without any real argument to prolong the transfer of the remains," she told Church Militant. "I am confident we would win on appeal but would regret the continued time and expense it would involve."

Monsignor Kruse echoed her sentiments, expressing hopes that Cdl. Dolan would "reconsider" and "retract" the idea of appealing. "I hope that he just kind of realizes that public sentiment — that this just gets resolved, that we move on; let's get this going for the good of the Church."

The diocese of Peoria and New York have been deadlocked over Sheen's body for two years, after Cdl. Dolan — failing to honor the promises of his predecessor Cdl. Edward Egan — refused in 2014 to hand over Sheen's remains to Peoria so his cause for sainthood could advance.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria had opened Sheen's cause for canonization in 2002, relying on multiple assurances by then-head of the New York archdiocese Cdl. Egan that New York had no interest in opening Sheen's cause, and that New York would hand over Sheen's remains to Peoria — the city where Sheen grew up, went to seminary and was ordained. The Peoria diocese has spent approximately $1 million over the past 14 years advancing his cause.

Wednesday, Judge Arlene Bluth of the NY Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cunningham, Sheen's niece and closest living relative, finding that she had "good and substantial reasons" to have her uncle's body removed. 

"Respondents' claim that Archbishop Sheen expressed a general desire to be buried in New York is an unsupported conjecture," Bluth wrote. 

Church Militant contacted the New York archdiocese for comment, but as of press time has received no response.

The Peoria diocese is asking the faithful to keep up their prayers for a good outcome.


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Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.

Christine Niles is executive producer and editor-in-chief at ChurchMilitant.com.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @ChristineNiles1