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June 11 The Emmy winning Bishop - Fulton Sheen

Fulton Sheen was consecrated a bishop on June 11, 1951. A charismatic speaker and pioneer of religious media in the 20th century, he would be nominated three times for Emmys for his broadcasts. Eventually winning The Most Outstanding Personality Award in 1953.


From 1930 to 1950 he regularly appeared on the “The Catholic Hour” radio programme and in 1951 launched the popular “Life is Worth Living” television series. One of the first televangelists, the show, was scheduled in a prime time slot on Tuesday nights at 8:00 p.m and did surprisingly well even up against such ratings giants as Frank Sinatra. Life and Time magazine ran feature stories on Bishop Sheen and the number of stations carrying Life Is Worth Living jumped from three to fifteen in less than two months. The response from the audience was also considerable with fan mail flowing in at a rate of 8,500 letters per week and there were four times as many requests for tickets as could be fulfilled and in 1952, Sheen won an Emmy Award for his efforts. Accepting the reward by saying, "I feel it is time I pay tribute to my four writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." The programmes drew as many as 30 million people weekly. He retired from the programme suddenly – and there were rumours that this was due to internal church politics involving New York’s powerful Cardinal Spellman.

In 1958, Sheen became national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, serving for eight years. In this capacity between 1962 and 1965, he attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council and worked closely with Father Joseph Ratzinger, who was a theological expert on the commission for mission. In a 2012 interview with Vatican Radio, Fr Ratzinger who was now Pope Benedict recalled how "Fulton Sheen ... would fascinate us in the evenings with his talks." After the Council he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, and his fame lead him to convert a number of notable figures to the Catholic faith, including automaker Henry Ford II, Communist organizer Bella Dodd and violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.

According to the foreword written for a 2008 edition of Sheen's autobiography, Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen, Catholic journalist Raymond Arroyo wrote that "In the late 1950s, the government donated millions of dollars' worth of powdered milk to the New York Archdiocese. In turn, Cardinal Spellman handed that milk over to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to distribute to the poor of the world. On at least one occasion, he demanded that the director of the Society, Bishop Sheen, pay the Archdiocese for the donated milk. He wanted millions of dollars. Sheen refused as these were funds donated by the public to the missions, funds Sheen himself had personally contributed to and raised over the airwaves. He felt an obligation to protect them, even from the itchy fingers of his own Cardinal." Spellman took the issue directly to Pope Pius XII, pleading his case with Sheen present. The Pope sided with Sheen. Spellman later confronted Sheen, warning him that he would get even. Spellman cancelled Sheen's annual Good Friday sermons at St. Patrick's Cathedral and discouraged clergy from befriending the Bishop. In 1966, Spellman had Sheen reassigned to Rochester, New York, and caused his leadership at the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to be terminated. To his great credit, Sheen never talked about the situation, only making vague references to his "trials both inside and outside the Church." He even went so far as to praise Spellman in his autobiography.

Sheen was known to be alternately charming and ruthless, there was hardness sometimes which can be seen today in Americas notorious culture wars. Sheen showed concern with contemporary issues but denigrated anyone who showed compassion towards criminals, addicts, sex workers, counter-cultural youth, and gay people, shouting in his sermon "False Compassion": "“There are sob sisters, there are the social slobberers who insist on compassion being shown to the muggers, to the dope fiends, to the throat slashers, to the beatniks, to the prostitutes, to the homosexuals, to the punks…. so that today the decent man is practically off the reservation.” However, he was not consistently reactionary, denouncing the Vietnam War and creating ecumenical housing initiative particularly for the black community.

Because of the sheer volume of material, it would be inevitable that sometimes Sheen’s messages were mixed and defensive, and especially after he accepted ordination to the Episcopacy. A famous essay on celibacy begins with the express goal of dispelling the assumption that marriage is less holy in the divine plan than celibacy. He boldly proclaims that both are good, complementary, and not competitive. However closely read the tone of the essay is one of condescending superiority. Marriage belongs to the secular world, uses alternating current, travels by roadway, labours with hand tools and reason, etc. Celibacy, by contrast, deals with the spiritual world, uses direct current, travels by air, and positively vibrates with intuition, poetry, and dreams. Although he may have revealed himself when he says “It is because of His love that I loathe myself. It is His mercy which makes me remorseful.”