More than two years after the Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy protection, a debt negotiation process could be coming to a close, after alleged abuse victims reached a settlement with two insurance companies last month, in addition to the $55 million they already settled on with the diocese itself.
There remains a negotiation to be had with one insurance company — Continental Insurance — but if an agreement can be reached there, the diocese could begin to move forward from bankruptcy, and alleged abuse survivors could find assistance to help them find healing.
While resolving the bankruptcy negotiations will allow plaintiffs to move forward, it might also allow Bishop Salvatore Matano to move on — the bishop is almost 77, and is believed to have remained in the diocesan post past the episcopal retirement age of 75 because of his work to address the bankruptcy.
But as bankruptcy resolves in Rochester, and Matano comes close to retiring, Catholics across the U.S. have begun asking about another well-known Rochesterian — Bishop Fulton Sheen, who was supposed to be beatified in December 2019, before Matano asked the Vatican to postpone the beatification process.
So could Sheen’s cause again move forward?
Is it possible that the Holy See might again consider a beatification date for the well-loved American bishop?
Several factors suggest the wait could be a bit longer.
When the Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, it was facing 475 lawsuits filed under a litigation window created by the New York Children Victims Act.
The diocese was the first in New York state to file for bankruptcy, but it would not be the last — the dioceses of Buffalo, Syracuse, Rockville Centre, Albany, and Ogdensburg followed suit, leaving only the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn out of the bankruptcy arena.
But Rochester was unique because of Sheen — and the possibility of his canonization remains an important question to many Catholics, especially after he came within weeks of beatification in late 2019.
Journalists now writing for The Pillar confirmed in 2019 that Sheen’s beatification was stopped at the request of Bishop Matano in early December 2019, three weeks before his scheduled beatification date of Dec. 21. The Diocese of Rochester confirmed that reporting.
Sources close to the cause have since told The Pillar that two other American Churchmen were involved in the move to halt Sheen’s beatification — Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.
According to sources close to the process, Matano asked Dolan in 2019 to help him delay the process, and Dolan involved Cupich in approaching the apostolic nunciature, and eventually the Holy See, in that effort.
The concern that halted Sheen’s beatification was the prospect that the bishop — who served as Rochester’s diocesan bishop from 1966 to 1969 — might have mishandled cases of sexual abuse or misconduct.
At specific issue was Gerard Guli, a former Rochester priest, who was accused of abusing adults in the early 1960s — before Sheen arrived in the diocese — and who reportedly asked Sheen for an assignment in 1967.
Msgr. James Kruse, then-director of canonical affairs in the Diocese of Peoria, told Catholic News Agency in 2019 that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry, even while his successor, Bishop Joseph Hogan, did.
“The documents clearly show that Sheen's successor, Bishop Hogan, appointed Guli, and it's at that assignment that Guli offended again,” Kruse said in 2019.
Kruse added that he had spoken with Guli — still living in 2019 — and that the man had confirmed Sheen had not given him an assignment.
“It's [Bishop] Hogan who appointed Guli to the parishes in the towns of Campbell and Bradford where Guli offended, and it's part of the reason that led to his ultimate removal and laicization, as well as other issues,” Kruse said.
In 1989 — a decade after Sheen was dead — Guli was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman, and eventually laicized.
In addition to the Guli case, there was also concern among some officials that there might be raised in New York new allegations against Sheen during the Child Victims Act litigation window, which is now closed. The Pillar has confirmed that no allegations were filed against Sheen during the litigation window.
But there was also the possibility that Sheen might face allegations in the context of an attorney general’s probe into the handling of sexual abuse by New York’s dioceses. The probe was launched in 2018, and led eventually to a 2020 lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Buffalo in 2020, which was resolved last year with a settlement agreement between the attorney general’s office and the diocese.
Sources close to that probe have told The Pillar that there are no new or unresolved allegations against Sheen in the attorney general’s files, but the state investigation has not been formally closed, and it is not clear when it might be.
And there is also the possibility that Sheen might face some unknown allegation during a one-year litigation window that began in November 2022 for adult victims of abuse — although with nine months passed in that window, no such allegation has been filed against Sheen.
With both the state attorney general’s investigation open and the adult victims’ litigation window open, it seems unlikely that Matano will push to see Sheen’s cause put back on track — no one wants to be the bishop pushing forward a beatification if there is even the remote possibility that an allegation against Sheen could be forthcoming.
That means the prospect of a new beatification date for Sheen before November is highly unlikely.
After that — well, it depends.
December 2023 will mark four years since Sheen’s beatification was halted.
By that time, the abuse of adults litigation window will be closed in New York, and it seems plausible that Matano — who by then will be 77 — could have a successor in place.
It also seems plausible that Rochester’s lingering bankruptcy issues could be by then resolved.
With those boxes checked, it is possible that Matano’s eventual successor could move to see Sheen put back on track, even if the state attorney general’s probe is ongoing — arguing that the investigation could last for years, and that there is no evidence Sheen will face new allegations when it eventually closes.
At that point, the Holy See would likely look to Dolan and Cupich — who pushed for the pause — for a sense of what to do next.
Cupich might be inclined to push for the beatification, which would likely happen in Peoria, a suffragan see of Chicago. But the Holy See would probably defer to Dolan, given the cardinal’s lengthier involvement in the case.
For his part, Cardinal Dolan has faced complex issues related to the prospect of Sheen’s beatification for nearly a decade. Before the 2019 pause, the New York archdiocese and Diocese of Peoria were involved in a five-year legal battle over Sheen’s mortal remains.
After a decade of disagreement over Sheen, it is not clear that Dolan will be especially keen to push now to see Sheen beatified amid the prospect of more controversy, at least not during his remaining years in the bishop’s chair at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Further, if Dolan made much of the attorney general’s investigation in 2019, it might be hard for him to suggest in 2023 that it’s not all that important, even if he has reason to believe that there will be no new allegations against Sheen contained in it.
But if Dolan does not in future urge the Holy See to disregard the open attorney general’s investigation, the Vatican will likely wait for as long as it takes for the state of New York to formally close its probe.
While it is politically advantageous for a state prosecutor to be seen investigating the Catholic Church, Catholics in New York and elsewhere might eventually begin pushing the state to close the investigation, in order to clear the decks for Sheen.
But in the meantime, with both secular and ecclesiastical politics at play, Catholics devoted to Ven. Fulton Sheen might well have considerably more time to wait before the bishop will be raised to the altar.
Many of those Catholics are likely praying for relief, and recalling — as regards Sheen’s situation — one of the bishop’s many quips: “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”