Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saint Archbishop Sheen? Not So Fast, Please.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen's cause for canonization is underway and he is now a Venerable. Will he be canonized? Probably. Unlike  Paul VI or John XXIII there are actually many people who have been devoted to him for decades and who have been calling for canonization.  Should he be canonized? I'm not sure. When I was younger I would've said "yes," but after re-reading Sheen's works and accounts of his life I'm leaning towards "no." Does this shock you? I loved watching re-runs of archbishop Sheen's show and I was deeply moved by The World's First Love and his Life of Christ.  His 1967, book, however Footprints In A Darkened Forrest was a clunker. I first put it down to age and illness and maybe shell-shock from  his fight with Cardinal Spellman but his enthusiasm for  Fr. Teilhard de Chardin is disturbing:

  “It is very likely that within 50 years when all the trivial, verbose disputes about the meaning of Teilhard's ‘unfortunate’ vocabulary will have died away or have taken a secondary place, Teilhard will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century.” 

Archbishop Sheen thought that a man like Teilhard de Chardin was a saint. Teilhard either was taken for a fool or participated in one of the greatest scientific hoaxes in history.   He also spent more time digging up bones and talking about secular and occult matters rather than conferring the sacraments.  Archbishop Sheen's was taken in by this man and also thought that Gandhi was a saint. Well, Mrs. Gandhi, their sons and some of his nieces would probably beg to differ.  It doesn't affect his personal holines but it says something about the dear archbishop's discernment.

Now,to be fair, I have to point out that a saint can make a mistake.  The Church does not say that a saint has to be 100%  correct about things that are not essential to the Faith from soup to nuts. St. John Bosco veered into papalotry on occasion in his letters. St. Vincent Ferer thought  that an antipope was the real pope for a time. Canonization requires martyrdom and/or heroic virtue.   

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was great in the film studio and was a fine writer.  According to the FBI, his personal habits were beyond reproach. That does not automatically make him worthy of canonization. The canonization process has been cheapened and it's an embarrassment to the Church. St. Josemaria Escriva and Pope St. Paul VI both had highly questionable pasts and are now canonized. This is a scandal to many people and enemies of the Church smirk over the stories of Paul VI's sex life.   Pope Francis is going to do as he pleases but the Church really needs to pull back and return to the intense rigorous process of canonization that we once had. 

Everyone in Heaven is a saint. Most saints have not been canonized. Their lives were hidden in the mists of antiquity or their heroism was known only to God or they did not have enough people working on their cause. Not every saint needs to be canonized. Allowing Fulton Sheen to remain a Venerable for a time or forever is no insult to him. St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese order waited over 500 years to be canonized. St. Martin de Pores died in 1639, and was not even beatified until 1837. St. John Fisher was martyred in 1535. He was not canonized until 1935!  There is no need to rush. There's no need to make a mistake that will blow up in the Church's face later. It has to be noted that there are people still living in Rochester who will tell you that the only thing the archbishop did there was to treat them like lab rats.  

If you don't want to get on the Sheen canonization now bandwagon just yet it doesn't mean you are a bad Catholic.  Look beyond the Archbishop's glamour and ask with honest curiosity and open heart if canonization in this case is really to the glory of Our Lord and the edification of His Church.