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Peoria Diocese wins latest court skirmish over remains of Fulton Sheen

The Catholic Diocese of Peoria on Tuesday won what it hopes was the final court battle to bring the remains of Archbishop Fulton Sheen to Peoria.

In a 5-0 vote, a New York appellate court rejected the latest appeal by the Archdiocese of New York to keep his remains in a crypt below St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The decision is the latest in a lengthy tug-of-warbetween the New York Archdiocese and the Peoria Diocese over the final resting place for Sheen, who was born in El Paso and ordained in Peoria. The Catholic Diocese considers the move vital in its effort to canonize Sheen.

“We hope that this will be the end with New York,” said Patricia Gibson, attorney for the Peoria Diocese.

Five days before his death, in 1979, Sheen signed a will seeking burial in the Archdiocese’s graveyard, Calvary Cemetery. But the Archdiocese instead sought and won permission from Sheen’s closest living relative, niece Joan Sheen Cunningham, to inter him in a place of honor: St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The matter rested quietly until 2002, when the Peoria Diocese began the lengthy process campaigning the Vatican for Sheen’s sainthood. Since 2012, Sheen has been one step — beatification — away from sainthood.

Before beatification, church law calls for the body to be exhumed for authentication. From the Peoria Diocese’s vantage, Roman Catholic tradition calls for beatification in the diocese of the origin of a sainthood effort. In 2014, the New York Archdiocese refused the Peoria Diocese’s request to disinter Sheen. So, in 2016, the diocese filed a suit in New York seeking to move the remains to Peoria, citing new support from niece Joan Sheen Cunningham.

That year, a New York judge ruled the remains immediately could be moved to Peoria. Since then, however, appeals have gone back and forth, with the New York Archdiocese (via the trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral) arguing Sheen wanted to be buried in New York and that the chances of sainthood are purely speculative.

But in a terse ruling handed down Tuesday, the appeals court deemed the Archdiocese’s arguments “unavailing.” Further, the judges said that court testimony indicated Sheen would approve of any process that would aid canonization, including a relocation of remains to Peoria.

Read more at Peoria JournalStar 

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