Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fulton Sheen Suspended . . . Again?, I: What’s the Story?


Last week we learned that the “cause” for Fulton Sheen’s canonization has been suspended.  This was a surprising and disappointing development, even to non-Catholics who would like to see such a great thinker and champion of justice honored.

Nor is this the first time such a thing has happened to Sheen.  ’Way back in 1927 or so, not too long after Sheen was appointed to the Catholic University of America, he managed to incur the wrath (or, more likely, the jealousy) of Monsignor John A. Ryan, credited with being “the” guy for social justice in the United States, and who ruled the theology department of Catholic U. with an iron hand.  At first Ryan contented himself with making the usual academic trouble for Sheen, gossip, innuendo, you know, academic politics as usual.

Matters came to a head, however, when the new rector of Catholic University refused to approve the appointment of Ryan’s handpicked successor at the school of theology, Dr. Francis Joseph Haas (1889-1953), until Dr. Haas obtained a Doctor of Divinity (D.D.). The rector had decided all professors in the school of theology must have a D.D. in order to maintain academic standards.

Big deal, right?  So what, you say?  You dreamer.

Ryan was outraged at this flouting of his personal authority by a mere rector of the university.  He circulated a petition against the rector that he intended to submit to the bishops of the United States, and demanded that every professor in the school sign it.

You guessed it.  Sheen refused to sign. As he described the situation,

“I thought it was unfair to send to the bishops an accusation against the rector of the university when the rector of the university had never been given a hearing. I suggested: ‘Before sending out the letter why not call in the rector, read to him the accusations you have made and give him a chance to respond. If he cannot, then send the letter, but I will not sign the document without giving [the rector] the right to answer.’” (Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay, p. 45.)

Sheen’s refusal to accuse the rector without giving the rector the chance to respond or defend himself was all the excuse Ryan needed. As Sheen related,

“The next day there appeared on the bulletin board of the School of Theology a notice to the effect that all of the classes of Dr. Fulton J. Sheen had been suspended in the School of Theology. [The rector] knew the reason — namely, because I had defended him. He then transferred me to the School of Philosophy.” (Ibid., 45-46.)

This suspension could have been the end of Sheen’s career.  As it was, it was pretty much the end of it in academia, but he went on to bigger and better things . . . fortunately for us.

So, another suspension?  And we don’t really know the reason?  It may not be anything to worry about — a subject we’ll start discussing in the next posting in this series.

#30#

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