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Legal Battle Breaks Out Over Remains Of Archbishop Fulton Sheen

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A legal battle has broken out over the body of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen between the famed television broadcaster's family and the Archdiocese of New York.

Born in Central Illinois in 1895, Sheen was a renowned evangelist who drew a TV audience in the millions for his weekly show in the 1950s. He died in 1979, and is buried in the crypt under the main altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

His niece, Joan Cunningham, is asking the court to allow Sheen's remains to be moved to Peoria, Illinois, where he was ordained a priest in 1919.

The Diocese of Peoria has been leading the effort to have Sheen declared a saint. The road to sainthood is a multi-step process that can take decades – even centuries. The issue of relocating the body has come up previously since the diocese started the process, known as a "cause for sainthood," in 2002.

In order to move forward with the process, the body must be interred in the parish that submitted the application, The New York Daily News reported.

Archdiocese of New York spokesman Joe Zwilling said Sheen's will states very clearly that he wanted to be buried in New York.

"That deserves respect," Zwilling told WCBS 880's Rich Lamb, adding the Diocese of Peoria can continue its work without Sheen's body being relocated. "The Diocese of Peoria deserves a lot of credit for all the work that they've already done in advancing the cause for beautification and canonization of Archbishop Sheen. They have done that while his body has remained in St. Patrick's Cathedral."

In 2012, former Pope Benedict XVI moved Sheen a step closer to recognition as a saint by declaring he had lived a "life of heroic virtue."  Benedict spoke of his admiration for Sheen, and said he had met him many times in Rome during the Second Vatican Council in 1962 and 1963.

Two years later, a Vatican committee attributed a miracle to Sheen's intercession, putting him on the verge of beatification, just one step shy of canonization.

Sheen's show, "Life Is Worth Living," aired from 1951 until 1957 and spread the Catholic faith with a mix of wisdom and wit. When Sheen beat Milton Berle to win an Emmy Award in 1952, he jokingly credited his writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

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