Friday, November 28, 2014

New book on Archbishop Fulton Sheen highlights his character

A post by Francis Phillips on the Catholic Herald "Books Blog" (October 30, 2014) reviews a "revelatory new book [that] will please those anxious to see Archbishop Sheen's canonisation," Mgr Hilary C Franco's Bishop Sheen: Mentor and Friend(New Hope Publications, 2014). Excerpts:
... in the 1950s, when Sheen was making his memorable TV series, Life is Worth Living, he was criticised by a famous American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, for stating that “beneath a complex is a sin.” Fulton Sheen would have no truck with any ideology that ignored fundamental Christian teaching: that we are sinners and to be truly healed we require God’s mercy.

... Franco repeats one well-known story of an incident when Sheen was spending some time at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. He was praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament (as he did for an hour, every day of his priestly life) when he heard the sound of someone vomiting outside the church. It turned out to be a young, very drunk female model – a lapsed Catholic. Overcoming her reluctance to talk by promising he wouldn’t ask her to go to confession, Sheen invited her into the church and helped her to become more presentable. Then he took her round the church, pointing out its devotional features.

As they went down one aisle they passed a confessional and Sheen, without speaking, gently but firmly propelled the young woman inside. That moment became the significant encounter of her life; she made a full confession, mended her ways and finally became a nun. What priest in today’s atmosphere of suspicion of the cloth coupled with insistence on individual rights would dare do as Sheen did?

Mgr Franco’s book is also revelatory of what happened to the Church in the US after Vatican II. When Sheen became Bishop of Rochester, New York, between the years 1966-1969, he saw at first hand the malaise within the Church: mass defections from the priesthood and religious life and defective seminary selection and training. Indeed, he once refused to ordain several young men whom he saw were not suited to the priesthood. He realised that, if ordained, they would only cause trouble in the Church at a later date. Franco also relates that Sheen was deeply troubled by the calibre of his fellow-bishops: “He saw the weaknesses of a good number of bishops, weaknesses which undermined their authority as successors of Christ’s apostles. At this critical time [1970], he found bishops who were avoiding problems and difficult decisions, delegating their authority to others, failing to teach and discipline, listening to bad advisors and demonstrating apathy. “So many are afraid of being unloved” he told me.” It sounds a prophetic comment on the Church today.
[Hat tip to JM]

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