Now more than a century on, the present parish priest of St Helen’s, Fr Graham Smith has been asked by the Bishop of Brentwood s to promote the opening of the Cause for Fr Byles’s beatification. Fr Smith says he considers his predecessor to be “an extraordinary man who gave his life for others”. He now hopes that people in need will invoke Fr Byles and if a miracle occurs the case can go forward to the next stage.
The possibility of Fr Byles Cause being opened has attracted criticism as some feel that his story is merely caught up in the permanent dramatic interest in the unsinkable ship. Despite this, Fr Byles is someone who largely inspires. Parallels have been drawn with St Maximilian Kolbe, the martyr of Auschwitz, who also sacrificed his life to save another.
Of Archbishop Sheen, he notices that the controversy is not about Sheen himself but about the rivalry between two Catholic dioceses:
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints scrutinised the evidence of Fulton Sheen’s holiness and then passed their findings on to the Pope. This led to him being identified as someone who lived a life of “heroic virtue” resulting in him being given the title Venerable.
The next stage was the verification of miracles linked to situations where people had invoked Fulton Sheen. Several miracles were identified and the primary case was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to be examined. The conclusion was that a natural cause could not be determined to explain the miracle.
Up to this point things were progressing well. The next requirement in the process was for the bodily remains of Fulton Sheen to be examined. This is when the unseemly arguments over the body of the great archbishop developed. Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria had requested to have the body exhumed and transferred to his Illinois diocese but this was refused by Cardinal Dolan of New York. The Diocese of Peoria has always claimed that it had been assured that this request would be granted and strong words were issued from both sides at the time.
Following discussion between the New York archdiocese and Rome it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now be placed in the archives of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This effectively means that the Cause is suspended indefinitely.
And the comments about Chesterton:
Many people, influenced by his writings, have been led into full communion with the Catholic Church and this has created strong support for his Cause. His works range from the well-known Father Brown stories to hagiographies of famous saints. His best known Christian writing, Orthodoxy, is one of the most influential of the 20th century.
Some supporters of Chesterton worry that opening the cause will reduce the power and accessibility of the important message that he still communicates. For instance, would the Father Brown stories remain as popular if they were by St Gilbert Keith Chesterton? It could certainly create a barrier to a more secular readership.
As Pope Francis’s interest indicates, Chesterton has a global following. The largest Chesterton Society exists in the United States of America but there are groups in Poland, Mexico and Italy. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens following the submission of the report by Canon Udris. There are reports of miracles but these have yet to be verified.
For several months, our local chapter of the American Chesterton Society has been reading through The Well and the Shallows, a 1935 collection of essays Chesterton wrote for Catholic periodicals. Next month we will discuss "Mary and the Convert", and the concluding paragraph might contradict Father Pittam's comment that Chesterton "was also not devout in the conventional sense":
Read the rest of the article in The Catholic Herald here, as Father Pittam discusses other causes (Dorothy Day and Antoni Gaudi).