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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A petition is circulating asking that Cdl. Timothy Dolan of New York release the remains of Ven. Abp. Fulton J. Sheen. Raymond de Souza, a Knight of the Order of Malta, began the petition, and spoke with Church Militant.
To avoid any confusion, de Souza shared his views in his individual capacity as a Knight of Malta, and not in the name of the Order. According to him, Abp. Sheen "was a real crusader for the Catholic faith in the last century," de Souza remarked. "And so to have a man like this canonized" would be a great gift to the Church.
"He was a model bishop," he continued. "Today, unfortunately, experience shows that many bishops basically distribute sacraments; they do not preach. They run a terrible risk in not preaching. That is their first and foremost mission given from Our Lord Jesus Christ."
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.
In November, 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.
In a scathing, 10-page order made available November 17, Bluth rejected the New York archdiocese's arguments point by point. "Respondents' claim that Archbishop Sheen expressed a general desire to be buried in New York is an unsupported conjecture," Bluth concluded.
Just 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.
Appealing to Cdl. Dolan as principle chaplain of the Knights of Malta in the United States, de Souza, himself a knight of Malta, told Church Militant, "The defense of the Faith is the first purpose" of the Knights.
The Knights of Malta took the sword and defended the Faith, first in Jerusalem, then in Rhoades, then in Malta, where they got the name. ... And the dual purpose of the Knights of Malta is precisely what Cdl. Dolan is supposed to promote: (1) "Tuitio fidei," Latin for "defense of the Faith," and (2) "obsequium pauperum," "to help the poor." I have no doubt that there are many good works of charity in the New York archdiocese. But the defense of the Faith is the first purpose. To defend the purity, the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic faith — that's the first purpose.
"So I personally believe," de Souza continued, "if His eminence does not want to help promote the Faith, I think he should resign from being the chaplain."
"What's the purpose of having the title if we don't fulfill what is involved in holding that title?" he asked.
Church Militant spoke with Msgr. James Kruse, vicar general of the Peoria diocese, at the time of learning of New York's efforts to fight the court order. He expressed his "complete disappointment" in the New York archdiocese's decision "to draw this process out even longer."
He also said he was "stunned" by Cdl. Dolan's decision to appeal, and that it was a "disgrace."
"I guess they're just interested in dragging this on and on and on," Msgr. Kruse remarked, "even though clearly the judge said there was no substance to their argument."
"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 told Church Militant. "We're confident we will win the case."
According to Patricia Gibson, chancellor and attorney for the Peoria diocese, the hearing may not take place in time for Sheen to be moved to Illinois 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."
The petition reads,
The Peoria Diocese has said that, with progress already made in the cause and pending the approval of Pope Francis, a beatification could be celebrated soon after the arrival of the remains at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where a crypt is being prepared for his re-interment. ...
The only thing needed now is for Cardinal Dolan to accept the ruling of the New York State Supreme Court and consent to the release of his body to his family in Peoria where he was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ.