Action Alert!

The real reason for postponing Archbishop Sheen’s beatification

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 04, 2019

Kudos to J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon of the Catholic News Agency, for an outstanding piece of investigative reporting on the reasons for postponing the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The news that the beatification would be postponed, coming less than a month before the scheduled event, was stunning and disheartening. And the official announcement from the Peoria diocese, providing no explanation beyond the fact that “a few members of the bishops’ conference have requested a delay,” certainly did nothing to restore public confidence.

Why would a beatification be delayed? The diocesan statement acknowledged an unhappy reality: “In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor.” Was that sentence intended to ease our worries? On the contrary, by mentioning the charges that have not been raised against Archbishop Sheen, the statement virtually encourages readers to ask: Well, then, what allegations have been made?

And predictably enough, a few reporters and bloggers plunged immediately into the speculative waters. There was one old complaint against Archbishop Sheen: based on hearsay, supported by zero evidence, advanced by a man with no credibility. A responsible reporter might look into such unfounded rumors, to see if they might have any basis in fact; but he would not make them public them without supporting evidence. Unfortunately, in this case they were made public, and thus the reputation of Archbishop Sheen was damaged.

Leaving aside that irresponsible speculation, there was another obvious and frustrating question: Why had “a few members of the bishops’ conference” sought a delay of the beatification ceremony at this late date? If there was a good reason not to beatify Archbishop Sheen, why hadn’t the bishops presented their concerns to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints long before the ceremony was scheduled? And if concerns had been expressed, why hadn’t the Congregation taken them into account? There was no need to rush.

And this ceremony has already been delayed, remember, by a long, unseemly legal battle between the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York over the mortal remains of the deceased archbishop. A beatification—an event that should be a joyful celebration—was, sadly, being transformed into an occasion for controversy and cynicism.

The CNA report does not entirely wash the stains out of the news story, but it does provide an explanation that could leave the late archbishop’s reputation intact. According to CNA, Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester suggested a delay of the beatification because Archbishop Sheen could be mentioned in a forthcoming report from the attorney general of New York on the handling of sex-abuse complaints by Catholic bishops in the state.

Church officials, both in the Peoria diocese and at the Vatican, have expressed confidence that Archbishop Sheen’s conduct will bear up under critical scrutiny—that nothing about his handling of abuse complaints will alter the conclusion that he lived a life of heroic virtue. But if his name is mentioned in the attorney general’s report, even without any plausible evidence of wrongdoing, that mention would cast a shadow over the beatification ceremony.

And thus we come to the most unsettling sentence of the Flynn/Condon report:

There was apparently specific concern that such an allegation against Sheen could be timed to coincide with the beatification on Dec. 21, sources told CNA.

So a politician, seeking to capitalize on inflamed public hostility toward the Catholic hierarchy, might have used the beatification as a means of gaining even more headlines? If so, then the delay, however unfortunate, is prudent.

The beatification ceremony will not put Fulton Sheen in heaven; he is, according to the judgment of the Church, already in residence there. The purpose of the ceremony is to provide encouragement for the faithful. As things stand, regrettably, this beatification would more likely to cause discouragement.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: FredC - Dec. 08, 2019 11:26 AM ET USA

    Even if the allegations were true, would not canonization be proper? A person can repent and reform. No matter when the public ceremony takes place, the allegation will be publicized. Miracles attest to Bishop Sheen's whereabouts. The "controversy" would be a good opportunity to teach about repentance (Confession) and thereby give hope to serious sinners. Mary Magdalene would never be canonized under present circumstances.

  • Posted by: mclom - Dec. 07, 2019 3:06 PM ET USA

    My head is reeling 😡

  • Posted by: wenner1687 - Dec. 07, 2019 11:51 AM ET USA

    All this could have been prevented had the post of "Devil's Advocate" not Imprudently been abolished. And "subito sancto" has set up a perfect scenario for this sort of scandal. Waiting a generation to canonise a saint was a prudent policy discarded by V2 to prevent "Haste makes waste" & "Never enough time to do it right; always enough time to do it over."

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Dec. 06, 2019 10:41 PM ET USA

    Ifind it interesting that this hold is all sparked by speculation coming out of New York not your most Catholic friendly state. Although the Church in New York has created its problems, Bishop Sheen is not one of them. This nothing more than to throw mud at a holy man looking down from heaven wondering where the Church has gone wrong. St Michael protect us.