Transparency and the mystery of Ven. Fulton Sheen’s postponed beatification

Catholic World Report [San Francisco CA]

December 14, 2022

By Michael R. Heinlein

The unfortunate absence of transparency from Church leadership on this situation leaves the laity in an awkward situation, if not a scandalous one.

In a recent interview with America Media, Pope Francis — in response to a question about transparency and clergy sexual abuse — remarked: “If there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

This is a lesson the Church has learned all too painfully, especially since the outbreak of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002 and resurgence in 2018. And the need for transparency emerges in a variety of other areas as well.

One of particular significance is the cause for beatification of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen — a beatification that was scheduled to be held three years ago on December 21, 2019, and which hasn’t happened still.

And, cloaked in confusion and intrigue, there has been no effort to clarify exactly what happened to cause the beatification’s extraordinary and surprise “postponement.” Indeed, less transparency is a mistake.

Despite a flurry of attempts from various Church leaders and observers to explain the postponement at the time, more answers are needed now, three years on.

Aside from the rumors and conspiracy theories in late 2019 — which naturally arise when there is an information vacuum — the only concrete explanation offered then by an ecclesiastical authority came in a statement from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, which acknowledged a request on their part for further examination of Sheen’s record on handling claims of abuse against some Rochester priests during his brief tenure as diocesan bishop there.

This request seemed to arise from concerns related to a state-wide report expected from New York’s attorney general relating to clergy sexual abuse.

Here’s the thing, though. Wouldn’t the miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession warrant and necessitate his beatification regardless of any behavior that may or may not be uncovered from Rochester or elsewhere? It was proven that Sheen lived a life of heroic virtue, as attested to by Pope Benedict XVI’s designation of Sheen as “venerable” in 2012. And we know a miracle attributed to his intercession has been proven and was approved by Pope Francis in 2019.

When a miracle is approved, but a cause is effectively put on ice this way, consequences arise that even begin to call into question the entire beatification process. At the very least, wouldn’t some answers be given to help avoid that?

Precisely because of these consequences, the delay of Sheen’s beatification is a cause of concern for the whole Church, not just those devoted to Sheen. We must hear why the precedent set by this decision is good for the faithful, good for the integrity of the canonization process and good for the Church.

Some might point to the beatification’s postponement as evidence that the canonization process maintains its integrity. This is all well and good. But if that is the case, then why are decisions made so secretly? Why are the faithful — who have been told Sheen was a man worthy of our veneration for his life of holiness and virtue — left in the dark as far as the current status of his cause is concerned?

And what does this mean for the entire beatification and canonization process in general? If the pope has said God acted through Sheen’s intercession, how can we keep God’s action arrested as it has been with the postponement of his beatification?

Meanwhile, rumors swirl on, but no answers have come from the Holy See or elsewhere. And bishops remain mum on the topic. And, apparently, the laity are expected to also keep quiet.

As we enter into the fourth year of waiting for answers, and the status of Sheen’s cause remains unclear, the unfortunate absence of transparency from Church leadership on the situation leaves the laity in an awkward situation, if not a scandalous one. The laity are left demanding answers to questions that matter, yet again — which in all honesty is only to the benefit of the integrity and credibility of the Church itself.

It was Sheen himself — ironically? — who prophetically said years ago: “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.”

Perhaps begging for the transparency called for by Pope Francis last month is a good place to start? Let’s pray and hope he can lead by example and bring some resolution to this regrettable episode and to the questions swirling around the entire saint-making business itself.