July 6, 2019 / 12:32 PM / 14 days ago

Pope moves America's 'first televangelist' closer to sainthood

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a charismatic figure of U.S. Roman Catholicism in the 20th century and a pioneer in using media for religious purposes, is one step closer to sainthood.

A Vatican statement on Saturday said the pope had approved a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession, meaning he will be beatified. No date for the ceremony was given.

Sheen, who was born in Illinois in 1895 and died in New York in 1979, was sometimes called the first “televangelist”.

Between 1930 and 1950 he hosted “The Catholic Hour” on the NBC radio network, which had an audience of four million.

He moved to television with “Life is Worth Living” which had a prime time audience of 30 million people and did so well it challenged the rating of shows hosted by Frank Sinatra and other stars. That show ended in 1957 and he returned to television in 1961 with The Fulton Sheen Program, which aired until 1968.

He twice received an Emmy Award, the television industry’s highest honor. In receiving one, he joked by thanking his writers - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four evangelists.

Sheen, a theologian and author of some 80 books, used those shows not only to preach Christianity and bolster the U.S. Church but also to condemn Adolf Hitler during World War Two and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the early years of the Cold War.

The procedure to have Sheen canonized, known as a sainthood cause, was halted for three years between 2016 and last month because of a legal tug-of-war over his body between the archdioceses of New York and Peoria, Illinois.

He was originally buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York but Peoria wanted the body because the cause had started there. Peoria won the case.

One miracle must be attributed to a candidate for sainthood before beatification. A second miracle must be ascertained after beatification in order for sainthood to be conferred.

The Church teaches that only God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them. A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of a person.

The Vatican did not identify the miracle in the Sheen case. According to Catholic media, it was the full recovery of a baby that was stillborn in Illinois.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Stephen Powell

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