The Archdiocese of New York will work to help transfer the remains of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a spokesman for the archdiocese told CNA Saturday. The decision is the conclusion of a long legal battle over the late archbishop's burial place.
“We have been informed that the New York Court of Appeals has denied further appeal of the New York Supreme Court decision upholding Joan Cunningham’s petition to disinter Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s mortal remains from under the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where they have rested for nearly 40 years,” Joseph Zwilling, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA.
The denial of the archdiocese’s appeal to keep Sheen’s remains in New York was delivered by the New York Court of Appeals on Friday, June 7.
“While we did not initiate this matter, the Trustees of St. Patrick’s and the Archdiocese believed that it was not simply their duty, but a solemn obligation, to seek to uphold Archbishop Sheen’s last wishes, as directed in his Will, to be buried in New York — a position held until recently by Joan Cunningham herself,” Zwilling said.
Cunningham is Sheen’s niece and closest living relative. Cunningham has said in the past that although her uncle’s will states that his wish was to be buried in New York, she believes he would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew it would help advance his cause for sainthood.
The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization (the process to become an officially recognized saint in the Catholic Church) in 2002, after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.
In September 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended Sheen’s cause on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.
In 2016, Cunningham filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.
The Archdiocese of New York has repeatedly appealed the attempt to transfer Sheen’s remains to Peoria, arguing that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is buried there.
Archbishop Sheen was a beloved television catechist during the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois at the age of 24, and was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, where he remained until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester, New York in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.
On June 8, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed to CNA their cooperation in the transfer Sheen’s remains.
“In light of the court’s denial of further appeal, the Trustees of St. Patrick and the Archdiocese will work cooperatively with Mrs. Cunningham and the Diocese of Peoria to arrange for the respectful transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s mortal remains.”