Harvesting a Future Saint: Catholic Church Fights Over Who Gets to Cut a U.S. Archbishop’s Corpse September 18, 2014

Harvesting a Future Saint: Catholic Church Fights Over Who Gets to Cut a U.S. Archbishop’s Corpse

Cardinal Timothy Dolan can’t bear to say goodbye to his hero and shining example, the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

In the fifties, Sheen presented an Emmy-winning Catholic TV show that affected a young Dolan greatly. Sheen’s remains have been entombed in a crypt in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral since 1979, the year of his death. The trouble is that the man was born in Peoria, Illinois, whose diocese lays claim to the body:

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds. … Now the dispute over Archbishop Sheen’s corpse has brought a halt to his rise to sainthood, just as he appeared close to beatification, the final stage before canonization. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, Peoria’s leader, announced this month that the process had been suspended because New York would not release the body.

It might be just a tad unseemly to fight over a corpse that way, but

… disputes over remains of saints are nothing new in the Roman Catholic Church, and in the past the resolution has sometimes been to divide the body.

Are you off your lunch yet? If not, this should help:

St. Catherine of Siena is enshrined in Rome, but her head is revered in a basilica in Siena, Italy. St. Francis Xavier, the 16th-century missionary, is entombed in Goa, India, but his right arm is in Rome, in a reliquary at the Church of the Gesu.

The archbishop’s remains will not be hacked apart and distributed, Dolan has decreed, but that doesn’t mean the Church will leave the body intact.

Cardinal Dolan’s latest offer to Bishop Jenky was that he could have bone fragments and other relics from Archbishop Sheen’s coffin, but not the body itself. And certainly no limbs. … By canon law, the body should be exhumed and authenticated before beatification, and relics — bone fragments and other physical remains — taken for the purpose of veneration. Bishop Jenky wanted that process to take place in Peoria.

There’s a fine line (or is there?) between veneration and desecration. I don’t think these people quite realize just what ghouls they are to the rest of the world, some Catholics included.

(Image via Shutterstock)


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