|In a 1974 Playboy interview Saul Alinsky said,|
"If there is an afterlife, and I have anything to say
about it, I will unreservedly choose to go to hell."
What can I say? The bloom is off the rose. I can still appreciate much of Fulton Sheen's work, but I can never read it again without a critical eye. Learning about Sheen's Teilhard enthusiasm got me looking a little deeper into his social justice work. Stephanie Block, an expert on Alinsky community organizing, told me awhile back about Fulton Sheen's connections to Alinsky activities in Rochester. I didn't look into it at the time and forgot about it. It's disturbing to see that Sheen was an active enabler of Alinsky's radicalism. If he were alive today, I hope he would realize the error of some of his beliefs and actions and repudiate them. We'll never know.
Would Sheen have supported a priest like Fr. Michael Pfleger in Chicago? I can't imagine it, but the priest he made his social justice guru, Fr. David Finks, sounds a lot like Pfleger who's even too much for liberal Cardinal Blase Cupich. Finks worked with the Alinsky organization FIGHT that targeted Kodak. During his tenure at the USCCB, he helped to create the notorious Catholic Campaign for Human Development which allowed Alinsky organizing groups (that support intrinsic evils condemned by the Church) to pick the pockets of the faithful. He later left the priesthood and married. And this was the man in whom Sheen put so much trust. It is disheartening to see how a man can be misled into undermining the good he does with their right hand, by the evil he supports with the left. But I don't intend to inter the good Sheen did with his bones. We have much to thank him for: his vigorous opposition to Communism, his constant urging for priests to make a daily holy hour, the excellence of so much of his writing, the conversions he fostered like Bella Dodd. Pray for Fulton Sheen and learn a little more about him in this 50 year old snapshot from Catholic Digest.
A simple brass pole on which a blacksmith mounted a crucifix is his crozier when Bishop Sheen acts as Bishop of Rochester. But most of the time he wears no insignia of his office. He looked like an eager parish priest when he climbed the stairs of the county poorhouse, with the agility of a man much younger than his 72 years, to say Mass for the residents.
The pastoral intensity shown at the poorhouse and the informality that did away with the traditional ornate crozier are some of many changes that Bishop Sheen has brought to Rochester. “He sure is shaking us up,”a priest said.
The bishop’s interests range far beyond his upstate diocese. He belongs to the leadership of the nation’s Catholic Bishops’ conference and is a member of the Commission on Missions in Rome that is charged with implementing Vatican II. He is one of the 24 prelates chosen by Pope Paul for the Synod of Bishops.
He subscribes to theological journals, mostly non-Catholic, from all over the world and keeps getting checks for Catholic missions from throughout the country. He forwards the checks to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, of which he was national director for 16 years. He still writes his newspaper column, which appears from coast to coast, and is taping a new series of television shows at the Channel 5 studios in New York for national broadcasting.
And with all the changes that he has brought to the religious life of Rochester, Bishop Sheen himself seems changed. To millions of television viewers and to readers of his more than 60 books, he had sometimes appeared as a proponent of a peace-of-mind faith with conservative overtones.
In Rochester, he is startling suburbanites by stressing his concern for the inner-city ghetto and his support for a militant Negro organization. He has said Mass for 50 Puerto Ricans crowded into two slum rooms and urged his priests to revive the early Christian “house church” by offering Mass in private homes and taking there the consecrated Host for nocturnal adoration in improvised “centers of spirituality.” To the bishop, the whole world and all its problems are reflected in his diocese in what he calls “a cameo view: this diocese is a microcosm.”
Since his arrival in Rochester last Dec. 15, he has brought in nuns with experience in social work and created a “secular mission,” whose three priests go into trailer camps, villages, and farms “wherever there is a door to knock on and a soul to save.”
He has renamed his diocesan headquarters the “pastoral office” because the previous term, chancery, smacked to him of bureaucracy. He has consulted the diocese’s 600 priests on how he should fill Church posts and has put the diocesan finances into lay hands.
He has discussed a plan to buy space in secular newspapers to express Catholic views because “the Catholic press talks only to Catholics, like trade journals, as a taxidermist talks to other taxidermists.”
Bishop Sheen has begun sounding out Protestants on the idea of an ecumenical seminary, and he has asked Protestant scholars and a former communist from Britain, a convert to Catholicism, to become teachers in diocesan seminaries.
Soon after his arrival, Bishop Sheen visited the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Plymouth Ave., in Rochester’s 3rd Ward ghetto. A few days later he appointed the church’s assistant pastor, Father David Finks, Episcopal vicar in charge of the inner city’s problems, such as housing, education, employment, health, “social justice, equality, and the sharing of the common heritages of American well-being and Christian civilization.” It was the bishop’s first appointment, and Father Finks thinks that he is the only episcopal vicar for inner-city problems in the nation. The appointment was made under a Vatican Council decision allowing a bishop to delegate some of his powers to members of his clergy.
Father Finks told a visitor, “The thing I like about Bishop Sheen is that he has great instincts. He loves people; he has a real feeling for the poor.”
Another Rochester priest commented, “The appointment of Father Finks has bothered many middle-class Catholics here because he is so thoroughly involved in FIGHT.” The letters stand for Freedom, Integration, God, Honor—Today. The group was developed by Saul D. Alinsky, a community organizer who calls himself a “professional radical,” and was brought to Rochester by Protestant churches in 1965.
At the time Bishop Sheen arrived, FIGHT was battling the Eastman Kodak Co. over its disavowal of an earlier agreement to hire and train 600 unemployed Negroes. The dispute has meanwhile been settled. However, “the bishop’s support for FIGHT has caused many Catholics to drop buttons into the collection plate,” an influential resident remarked. “Many people still think of Rochester as a benevolent company town.”
In addition to his involvement in interracial affairs, Bishop Sheen has been calling for more interfaith dialogues. A member of Rochester’s Jewish community remarked with a smile, “Many among us were scared when Bishop Sheen’s appointment to Rochester was announced. After all, he had that reputation as a maker of converts! But he has been going slow on this.”
Bishop Sheen lives downtown in a 2nd-floor apartment below his diocesan headquarters at 50 Chestnut St. He keeps fit riding an electric bicycle for 15 minutes a day and playing tennis twice a week.