Following the halt of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s canonization cause, both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have expressed a desire to move forward, as the Vatican calls for dialogue between the two. The body the popular 20th century preacher has become the subject of an impasse between his native Peoria diocese and the archdiocese of New York, his final resting place. Unable to obtain permission from New York to exhume and transfer the body, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky announced the suspension of the cause Sept. 3. “It is essential to realize that Bishop Jenky now feels a great responsibility to be faithful to the thousands of supporters throughout Central Illinois, the nation and the world, in regard to the status of the cause,” said Patricia Gibson, who serves as chancellor of the Diocese of Peoria and has worked with the cause since its beginning. The diocese of Peoria opened the cause for Archbishop Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after receiving word from the Archdiocese of New York that they would not be exploring the cause. “Specifically, Bishop Jenky was told by Cardinal Egan in September 2002 that New York was not interested in pursuing the cause. (Cardinal Egan) also indicated that at the appropriate time he would facilitate the transfer of the body to Peoria,” Gibson said. Again in 2004, Cardinal Egan voiced his support of the cause and assured he would work to transfer the body to the Peoria Cathedral at the appropriate time. Soon after, Bishop Jenky wrote to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints requesting the body be transferred. The congregation replied that it was not yet the appropriate time. But with a miracle recently attributed to the late archbishop, the Diocese of Peoria believes the appropriate time is now. The Archdiocese of New York, however, is hesitant to begin the process. Following the announcement of the cause’s suspension, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, released a statement Sept. 4 explaining that the archdiocese is not sure the transfer of the body is in line with the wishes of the late preacher or whether they yet have full approval from Rome. “Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen expressly stated his desire that his remains be buried in New York, a request that was granted by Cardinal Terence Cooke when he was laid to rest beside the Archbishops of New York in the crypt beneath the high altar of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral,” Zwilling said. The Archdiocese of Peoria, however, believes that Archbishop Sheen could not have foreseen the particular series of events surrounding his canonization. “Clearly Archbishop Sheen’s wishes for his final resting place could not have anticipated that he would go through a canonization process led by his native Diocese of Peoria, after it was turned down by the Archdiocese of New York,” Gibson said. “The Diocese of Peoria has heard from several relatives this week regarding their desire that Bishop Jenky continue to work towards having the body transferred as was presumed from the beginning.” The Archdiocese of New York also believes they are respecting relative’s wishes by keeping the body in state. “Archbishop Sheen’s closest surviving family members have also expressed their desire that their uncle’s wishes be respected and that his body remain in New York,” Zwilling said. And while in 2005 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints did not explicitly forbid the transfer of the body, it has also not explicitly given its approval of the transfer. “To date, the only official instruction that the Archdiocese of New York has received from the Holy See regarding this matter was, from a decade ago, that his body not be moved to Peoria,” Zwilling wrote. “To date, we have not received any further direction or request from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” The Congregation did, however, ask both dioceses to begin discussing how the case might advance. In their statement, the Archdiocese of New York described some of the discussions, which have centered around the possible exhumation and study of the body and the possible collection of “first class relics” of Archbishop Sheen. Cardinal Dolan is hesitant to exhume the body before receiving explicit permission from the Vatican and from close family members. Should the permission arrive, Dolan wishes “that it be done modestly and reverently, and that the exhumation met the requirements of New York State law. He consulted with the family, who gave their approval if it would help advance the cause.” Dolan also disapproves of the dismemberment of Archbishop Sheen’s body. “However, if the body is exhumed, there is the strong likelihood that some relics would be present in the coffin, which could be reverently collected without disturbing the body, and then shared generously with the Diocese of Peoria,” the statement read. But until then, “we will await directions from Rome.” The Diocese of Peoria continues to hope the pause in the case will be temporary, and that 12 years of work will not go unfulfilled. “The actions taken by Bishop Jenky this week reflect his strong desire to be true to the countless supporters of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Cause who for over 12 years have labored and supported bringing the message of Fulton Sheen and his sanctity to the world. Bishop Jenky continues to hope that the promises made twelve years ago will be honored,” Gibson wrote. Similarly, the Archdiocese of New York expressed its desire to advance the case, even in the event that the suspension from Peoria would become final. “The Archdiocese of New York would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause in an attempt to move it forward, if such were in accord with the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, hoping Bishop Jenky’s excellent work would continue and his eloquent prayers answered.”
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