Rorate Caeli

On Sheen Beatification, it's Good to Err on the Side of Caution

In 2018, following the tragic report of abuses by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania (our post on that report: "The Pennsylvania Truth: John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II were no saints"), the Office of the Attorney-General of the State of New York launched its own thorough investigation of what may have taken place in the state's dioceses. The Diocese of Rochester was subpoenaed in September 2018. Fulton Sheen was the local ordinary in the most critical period of the crisis in America, the second half of the 1960s. His beatification, planned for Peoria on December 21, was postponed sine die a couple of days ago.

In 2018, a lawyer for victims (who, of course, is more interested in large figures -- which, on the other hand, does not mean that the figures are not true), spoke to a local news outlet in Rochester:

Leander James, one of the attorneys representing victims, said his firm often turns to trusted formulas to determine the number of potential cases in a given area.

“You can establish formulas in a geographic area and a demographic to identify the number of potential clergy abusers," James said.

One of the formulas is based on a study that found four percent of Catholic priests abuse minors.

If true and applied in Rochester, this would mean the diocese, at its peak in 1966, had 371 active priests.

That would roughly put the number of abusive priests at 15.

However, James said many believe that four percent factor is far too low.

“Every time I work in a diocese, you start to see patterns develop. I’m still trying to see the patterns in Rochester diocese," James said. "One of the things I can say is you have a high number of Catholics and you can expect to see, and I would expect to see, more victims and I would expect to see more victims per capita here."

The currently known cases involve, not two as it has been reported elsewhere, but possibly at least eight during the period in which Sheen was the local ordinary. The Diocese of Rochester released the following note yesterday evening:

Statement Regarding the Beatification of the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

The Diocese of Rochester appreciates the many accomplishments that Archbishop Sheen achieved in his lifetime in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide through media, thereby bringing the message of Jesus to a vast audience. His legacy in the area of communications made him a prophet in the future use of mass media to advance the teachings of Jesus, a phenomenon recognized by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

At the same time, a person’s cause for beatification must entail a review of the person’s entire life. In this regard, the Diocese of Rochester has considered the tenure of Archbishop Sheen as the Bishop of Rochester. The Diocese of Rochester, prior to any announcements of the beatification, provided the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints through the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio with documentation that expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments. Other prelates shared these concerns and expressed them. There are no complaints against Archbishop Sheen engaging in any personal inappropriate conduct, nor were any insinuations made in this regard.

The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification.

A beatification process reminds us that we are all called to be saints to live with the Lord eternally in heaven, praying that the Lord judges us worthy to behold Him face to face in that beatific vision that brings everlasting joy. From his place with the Lord, Archbishop Sheen enjoys eternal peace and joy in the everlasting presence of God, Our Father, whom he did serve with dedication and zeal for the salvation of souls.

The Diocese will be making no further comments.

The Diocese of Rochester is right to err on the side of caution. Just yesterday, more news came out showing that John Paul II, for instance, had been informed personally and in detail about the abuses perpetrated by the man he made a Cardinal and Archbishop of Washington, Ted McCarrick. Those who pushed for a fast canonization for John Paul II erred terribly: through the centuries, a man called a saint will be known as a man who ignored the cries of thousands upon thousands of abused children. Is that what we want?

A "bishop" is, above all, an OVERSEER. That is what the very word bishop means. It is a very great responsibility that entails much more than the events of his personal deeds, including all that he did oversee or failed to oversee. A bishop needs to have his work as an overseer examined thoroughly, to see if he lacked the appropriate oversight, before he is considered for the public veneration of the faithful.