Who is Fulton J. Sheen?
Fulton John Sheen (born Peter John Sheen, May 8, 1895 – December 9, 1979) was an American bishop of the Catholic Church known for his preaching and especially his work on television and radio. Ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria in 1919, Sheen quickly became a renowned theologian, earning the Cardinal Mercier Prize for International Philosophy in 1923. He went on to teach theology and philosophy at the Catholic University of America as well as acting as a parish priest before being appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York in 1951. He held this position until 1966 when he was made the Bishop of Rochester. He resigned in 1969 as his 75th birthday approached, and was made archbishop of the titular see of Newport, Wales.
For 20 years as “Father Sheen”, later monsignor, he hosted the night-time radio program The Catholic Hour on NBC (1930–1950) before moving to television and presenting Life Is Worth Living (1952–1957). Sheen’s final presenting role was on the syndicated The Fulton Sheen Program (1961–1968) with a format very similar to that of the earlier Life is Worth Living show. For this work, Sheen twice won an Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Starting in 2009, his shows were being re-broadcast on the EWTN and the Trinity Broadcasting Network‘s Church Channel cable networks. Due to his contribution to televised preaching, Sheen is often referred to as one of the first televangelists.
The cause for his canonization was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI officially recognized a decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints stating that he lived a life of “heroic virtues” – a major step towards beatification – and he is now referred to as “venerable“. On July 5, 2019, Pope Francis approved a reputed miracle that occurred through the intercession of Sheen, clearing the way for his beatification. Sheen was scheduled to be beatified in Peoria on December 21, 2019, but the beatification was postponed after the current Bishop of Rochester expressed concern that Sheen’s handling of a 1963 sexual misconduct case against a priest might be cited unfavorably in a forthcoming report from the New York Attorney General. The Diocese of Peoria countered that Sheen’s handling of the case had already been “thoroughly examined” and “exonerated” and that Sheen had “never put children in harm’s way”.
It’s strange to consider that in the not-too-distant past, a Catholic theologian was hosting a television show on NBC and winning Emmy Awards.