The Vatican has postponed the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a charismatic speaker and pioneer of religious media in the 20th century.
In a highly unusual move, the decision to postpone was taken after several bishops in the United States called for further study of Archbishop Sheen’s sainthood cause.
The news was announced just over two weeks before the beatification was scheduled to take place on 21 December in Peoria, Illinois. The Bishop of Peoria, Daniel Jenky, said the delay was not due to “any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor”, but after “a few members of the Bishops’ Conference asked for further consideration”.
The archbishop, who died in 1979 aged 84, was an Emmy Award winning broadcaster. He was an early adopter of mass media which he used to present the teachings of the Catholic faith in a compelling manner. From 1930 to 1950 he regularly appeared on the “The Catholic Hour” radio programme and in 1951 launched the popular “Life is Worth Living” television series. He is sometimes described as the “first televangelist”.
While Bishop Jenky stressed that Archbishop Sheen's life had been “thoroughly and meticulously” investigated, the archbishop has been accused of covering up an allegation of sexual abuse. He was an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York from 1951 to 1966 and Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 69. The handling of abuse cases in his former dioceses is now under intense scrutiny given that New York archdiocese is facing a series of civil claims, while last month Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy as it struggles to pay abuse victims.
Archbishop Sheen’s beatification, the rung below sainthood, was announced on 5 July 2019 with Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession. While any sainthood cause is a time-consuming process it is almost unheard of for a beatification to be announced and then postponed, so close to the ceremony date.