Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a riveting Catholic preacher who gained fame through mass media. RNS file photo

Sainthood process for Fulton Sheen stalled

(RNS) — The beatification of late Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen was postponed this week, marking the latest setback on the road to sainthood for the beloved television and radio preacher. 

Sheen was an early adopter of mass media as a form of evangelization in the United States, regularly appearing on “The Catholic Hour” radio program from 1930 to 1950. After becoming bishop, he launched his successful “Life Is Worth Living” television series in 1951, attracting millions of viewers.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria announced the postponement in a news release on Tuesday (Dec. 3), saying the Vatican informed him that Sheen's beatification — one of the last steps before a person is canonized and declared a saint — had been delayed “at the request of a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration.”

Sheen, who died in 1979 at age 84, was originally scheduled to be beatified on Dec. 21. No specific reason was given for the postponement, although the news release appeared eager to dispel any notion that Sheen is connected to the resurgent Catholic sex abuse crisis.

“There has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” the release said.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen on a set for one of his regular television programs in 1952. Photo by Fred Palumbo/LOC

In the release, the diocese also praised Sheen for preaching the gospel to the secular public and for being a model Catholic leader.

“The Diocese of Peoria observes that the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every state, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

Even so, David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture and a former Religion News Service reporter, said there had been speculation on social media about Sheen’s tenure as leader of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, where he served as bishop from 1966-1969. That diocese filed for bankruptcy in September in the wake of new lawsuits regarding allegations of sexual abuse in the past. 

Gibson said that the delay could be related to a review of the diocese’s handling of abuse. 

“A bishop will be judged by how they dealt with abusers even long in the past, and that holiness may be tied more closely than before to what a churchman did rather than how devout they were,” Gibson told RNS.

The process for beatifying Sheen was previously delayed due to a years-long legal dispute between the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria over where Sheen's remains should be interred.

In the press release, Jenky expressed sadness at the most recent delay and concern about how it would affect those devoted to Sheen. The release also noted that the bishop still believes Sheen will eventually become a saint, pointing to a number of miracles that can be attributed to Sheen. 

“Bishop Jenky has every confidence that any additional examination will only further prove Fulton Sheen’s worthiness of Beatification and Canonization,” read the statement.