Under this lax and political pontificate, almost everything in the Church looks arbitrary and slipshod, including canonizations, which Pope Francis has been using to remake the Church in his own liberal image. He quickly canonized Óscar Romero, whose cause stalled under previous pontificates, and two liberal popes not known for any exceptional sanctity, John XXIII and Paul VI. He canonized Pope John Paul II too, but that was a fait accompli. As much as Pope Francis might have liked to stop it, he couldn’t. (Observers noted his dourness at the canonization ceremony.)
In his Peronista style, he has also thrown a few bones to semi-conservatives, such as the canonization of John Henry Newman and Junípero Serra. In November, the Vatican announced the beatification of the anti-communist, pre–Vatican II-ish Fulton Sheen, a move that seemed to fall into the same category — a sop to conservatives. But no sooner had that been given than Pope Francis took it back. Earlier this week, the Vatican suspended Sheen’s beatification, citing the concerns of certain unnamed American bishops.
What were those concerns? It is still not entirely clear. Salvatore Matano, the bishop from Rochester, Sheen’s old see, took his sweet time before releasing a shamefully vague statement in which he appeared to blame the suspension on New York’s attorney general, who, he speculated, might cite Sheen in her upcoming report on cover-ups in the Catholic Church.
But the postulators and supporters of Sheen’s cause immediately noted the lameness of that excuse. They said any troublesome abuse-related cases during Sheen’s tenure as bishop of Rochester from 1966–69 had already been examined months ago and found meritless. They also noted that the pope had approved a miracle through Sheen’s intercession in July. Only after that and after a thorough vetting of Sheen’s record did the Vatican set a date for beatification. Why, they argued, was the Vatican, at the insistence of wimpy American bishops, letting New York’s attorney general (who is left-wing, pro-abortion, and endorsed by the National Organization for Women) dictate who becomes a saint?
“For thirty minutes this afternoon, I was stunned,” wrote Monsignor Eric Barr, speaking for many bewildered by the Vatican’s decision. “The Vatican had put a hold on Bishop Sheen’s beatification because of some un-named American bishops who had some concerns. Then I got over my shock. I come from a family of farmers and I know the smell of BS when I’m around a manure spreader. These ‘concerns’ from ‘un-named bishops’ have the smell of cow flops in the pasture….
“So after all the intense investigations into the life of Fulton Sheen, much more than the Attorney General will do, the bishops out of an exercise of caution decide to postpone beatification. That’s not prudence. That’s cowardice,” he argued. “We are to believe that these bishops fear that Sheen’s life will not hold up to scrutiny. We are told we must capitulate to a secular power just in case there is ‘something’ there, a something that has never been there before. Is Sheen to be subjected to the calumny that other innocent priests, even after their death, have been subjected to by powers who seek to destroy reputation?”
Rather than speak defensively from the shadows, couldn’t these “concerned” bishops speak strongly about Sheen’s obviously demonstrated virtue? Wouldn’t beatification be the appropriate answer of the Church to a false charge leveled by the state? But, say the episcopal ditherers, what if there is some truth there? What? We, as a Church, don’t have the courage of our convictions in our own saint making process? Sheen has never been accused of abuse so that won’t be a problem here. The concern is that he may have handled some case, as yet unknown, poorly. But that is not going to be a cause to delay beatification. It did not hurt Pope St. John Paul the Great’s cause though he could have handled the Fr. Maciel case better. Must we let the state dictate the beatification process of our own saints?
It would appear that this suspended beatification is a perfect storm of double standards, episcopal cowardice, and massive double-dealing. The AG-might-embarrass-us excuse looks like a smoke screen for the craven American bishops to block a conservative candidate whom they never supported in the first place. The pope, whose antipathy for anti-communist churchmen is legendary, was happy to accommodate these Sheen critics, delivering yet another snub to American conservatives.
The “postponed” beatification of Sheen is beginning to look like a cancellation. It is now deep in the realm of vicious papal politics. The “Sheen cause is over,” an unnamed source told the blogger Rocco Palmo. At least during this pontificate: As long as the pope’s pet cardinals (Tobin, Cupich, Wuerl, and company) oppose it, so will he. It is clear that two standards exist at his saint factory: a loose one for liberals and a strict one for conservatives. The pope is not above using the same accusations of cover-ups to block Sheen that characterized the pontificates of the three popes he has canonized.
The grim ironies in this farce abound, starting with the utterly derelict American bishops, almost all of whom have dismal records on the issue of eliminating abusive priests. Who are they to stand in judgment of Sheen? It would appear that they are simply using Sheen as a sacrificial lamb for their own sins. They want to stop the AG’s bus headed towards them by throwing Sheen under it.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has a backbone about as sturdy as an eel’s, deserves special condemnation. Even though he played a central role in blocking Sheen’s beatification (Matano acknowledged that he consulted with him on his letter to the Vatican), he hasn’t said a word about it. His silence is deafening. His media aides, whom I tried to contact for three days, won’t even say whether or not he will issue a statement.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, another of the “unnamed” bishops, has also fallen silent. These frauds who blather on about “transparency” prefer to get their message out through columnists and reporters in their pocket, some of whom have suggested that the beatification effort failed due to a lack of collegiality and to the “haste” with which it was conducted. Others, such as Michael Sean Winters, have suggested that even if Sheen is innocent of any charges of cover-up he still shouldn’t be beatified. Winters is a close friend of Cupich.
In this toxic political atmosphere, the chances of a Saint Sheen are nil. Once again, Pope Francis has succeeded in demoralizing the faithful and casting doubt over the authority of the Church. “I want to make a mess,” he said at the beginning of this pontificate. In that ambition, he has succeeded beyond measure, forming a kind of worldly sect in which the churchmen most responsible for wrecking the faith become saints while it lets the state treat as scoundrels those who preserved it.