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Court Rules to Move Abp. Sheen’s Body

November 17, 2016  0
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The New York Supreme Court has just ruled that the body of Ven. Abp. Fulton J. Sheen can be moved from New York to Peoria, Illinois.

This breaks the two-year deadlock between the archdiocese of New York, headed by Cdl. Timothy Dolan, and the diocese of Peoria, headed by Bp. Daniel Jenky, who have been in a battle over who gets the remains of the beloved TV personality so his cause for sainthood can advance.

Recall: 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 Jenky multiple times that New York would send Sheen's body to Peoria.

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 — 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 made available this afternoon, Judge Arlene Bluth rejected the New York archdiocese's arguments and ruled in favor of Cunningham, ruling that she had "good and substantial reasons" to have Sheen's body removed.

Bluth point-by-point rejected each of the archdiocese's arguments. First, New York had initially argued that Sheen wanted to be buried in New York, and therefore his desires should be respected. But the court said the archdiocese had actually failed to respect Sheen's wishes as expressed in his will, where Sheen indicated he wanted to be buried in a simple plot in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. The will was executed only five days before he died. Instead, the archdiocese buried him in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Sheen currently lies.

In the words of the court: "Clearly, Archbishop Sheen's stated directions regarding his final resting place were not followed."

The court also rejected the testimony of Msgr. Hilary Franco, who had claimed he was good friends with Sheen and that Sheen had repeatedly told him of his alleged desire to be buried at St. Patrick's Cathedral. In the court order, Judge Bluth asked the pointed question: "If Archbishop Sheen knew he had an offer to be buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral, then why did he state in his will, dated only five days before his death, that he wanted to be buried in Calvary [Cemetery]?"

When we spoke with Joan Sheen Cunningham in August, she told us she believed Franco was basically making up these conversations with Sheen and that they never actually took place. It seems the court agrees.

The court goes on to stress, "This is what is not in speculation: there is no support for the conclusion that Archbishop Sheen expressed a specific desire to be buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral."

The court also significantly notes that Joan Sheen Cunningham's desire to move her uncle's remains is universally supported by Abp. Sheen's family.

Ultimately, the court found that Cdl. Dolan never identified any good reason to block removal of Sheen's remains to Peoria. As the court noted, Peoria is where Sheen grew up, it's where he went to seminary, and it's where he was ordained. The Peoria diocese started his process for canonization in 2002 and has since spent about $1 million advancing his cause — all relying on New York's promise that Peoria would get the body.

The court concludes with a complete rejection of Cdl. Dolan's position, ruling:

[R]espondents' objection is based on unsupported speculation that decedent wanted his remains to stay in New York and that moving his remains to Illinois would contradict his wishes. ... Respondents' claim that Archbishop Sheen expressed a general desire to be buried in New York is an unsupported conjecture.

Church Militant spoke with the chancellor of the Peoria diocese, Patricia Gibson, today, shortly after the court ruling. Gibson told us the diocese is extremely happy with the result and is ready to work with the New York archdiocese in moving forward Sheen's cause for sainthood.

Joan Sheen Cunningham is also expressing gratitude over this court order and says she's happy this deadlock has come to an end and her uncle's cause can once again advance.

Many of you took part in a novena for Sheen's intercession specifically for this outcome, and we can once again thank Our Lady for bringing this to a truly happy and blessed conclusion.

Please stay tuned to Church Militant as we provide updates of this breaking news.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, pray for us. the full court order here.

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