Benedict XVI approves heroic virtues of American televangelist

Pope Benedict XVI has approved the heroic virtues of US Archbishop Fulton Sheen, clearing the way for the advancement of his sainthood cause.

The announcement came just over 13 months after Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, presented Pope Benedict XVI with two thick volumes about the life of Archbishop Sheen, whose home diocese was Peoria.

The decree from the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, signed by Pope Benedict, said Archbishop Sheen heroically lived Christian virtues and was “Venerable”. Before he can be beatified, the Vatican must recognise that a miracle has occurred through his intercession.

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Archbishop Sheen, who was born in Illinois in 1895 and died in New York in 1979, was an Emmy-winning televangelist. His programme, “Life is Worth Living,” aired in the United States from 1951 to 1957.

Last September, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the alleged miraculous healing of a newborn whose parents prayed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen.

The Vatican also announced papal decrees approving the beatification of 158 men and women, including 156 martyrs, all but two of them Spaniards, killed during their country’s 1936-39 Civil War.

Fr Giuseppe Puglisi, a Sicilian priest and activist against organised crime who was killed by the Mafia in 1993, was another of the martyrs recognised.

Martyrs do not need a miracle attributed to their intercession in order to be beatified. However, miracles must be recognised by the Vatican in order for martyrs to be canonised.

Other decrees recognised the heroic virtues of eight men and women, including:

– Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the first prelate of Opus Dei.

– Mother Marie-Josephte Fitzbach, founder of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.

– Mother Mary Angeline Teresa McCrory, the Irish-born founder of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, who died in New York state in 1984.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, welcomed the declaration that Archbishop Sheen had lived a life of virtue. He said: “This is a great day for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and the Catholic Church in America,” adding that the “heroic virtues of a son from central Illinois and a priest of Peoria have been recognised by the Catholic Church”.

“Fulton Sheen’s zeal, wisdom, and holiness should help us build our faith,” he said.

Mgr Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation in Peoria, said it was “not a coincidence that the Church would render its decision on the heroic virtue of Archbishop Sheen on the same day as the Supreme Court issues its decision on the health care plan”.

He said the timing of the announcement shows how the Church in the United States “needs heroes” and that Archbishop Sheen can “be an inspiration and a consolation to our bishops and other Church leaders” since he was “a man of courage, and priest of prayer”.

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