In 1957, Fulton Sheen was the most famous Catholic in America. His syndicated TV show, Life is Worth Living, drew an audience of 30 million and he served as director of the church’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith. But when he refused to use the Society’s funds to pay Cardinal Francis Spellman millions of dollars for powdered milk that the U.S. government had donated to the archdiocese of New York, Spellman forced him off the air, shut him out of New York City churches, and offloaded him to the diocese of Rochester.
Sheen nevertheless retained his fan base, and after his death in 1979, a movement took hold to make him a saint. In 2002, however, New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan declined to take up the cause, so into the breach stepped Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, the city where Sheen grew up and was ordained. Jenky not only undertook the laborious process of making Sheen’s case to Rome but also designed a shrine and devotional campus to receive Sheen’s remains.
All was going swimmingly, and Rome pronounced Sheen “Venerable” (one step short of sainthood) when a third New York cardinal-archbishop, Timothy Dolan, refused to allow Sheen’s body to be moved from Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Peoria’s St. Mary’s. Citing the wishes of the family and asserting his own devotion to Sheen, Dolan said he would only permit some bone fragments and other relics from the coffin to go to Peoria. Whereupon Jenky, unsatisfied with this medieval division of the remains, called an indefinite halt to the canonization proceedings.
What to do about so scandalous a state of affairs? I humbly suggest that, after viewing the above YouTube of Sheen’s 1956 show on “Selfishness,” Dolan back off and permit Sheen to be translated (as the moving of saints’ bodies is called) back to his home diocese. And so that New Yorkers can get a final look at a Midwesterner who, like Dolan himself, made it big in the Big Apple, begin the process by rolling the body through town on a float in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Now that Bill Donohue has removed the Catholic League from that Carnival of Irish Catholicism, there would seem to be an available space for the saint-to-be, God bless him. Sheen was as much of a son of the Old Sod as anyone, and I have a feeling the newly admitted gay and lesbian marchers would not object.