Trying to Revive the Legacy of Fulton Sheen

Gregory Ladd Sees Need for Laity in Media, Now More Than Ever

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EL PASO, Illinois, FEB. 14, 2002 ( Ladd is the editor of “Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Man for All the Media,” a recent release from Ignatius Press

Ladd helped found the Sheen Foundation ( around 1996 to spread the works, writings and tapes of one of the most popular Catholic ecclesial personalities in the history of American media. The foundation started in Fulton Sheen´s home town of El Paso. He died in 1979.

Q: What does Fulton Sheen have to teach the Church today regarding the media?

Ladd: The armature of his intellect in his transmission of the Gospel reflects the timeless words of Christ, “I am the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.” All time, all ages are his.

The problem in the current Church usage of the media is provincial thinking. And many seek the media as a platform to disregard the magisterium of holy mother Church. The key is in Christ´s words, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Too many branches have left the vine, the vine being the Church in Rome, and have tried new theologies that have no solid foundation.

Q: Can this age support another Fulton Sheen? Or is it too secularized? Too hostile to religion?

Ladd: No, it couldn´t support another Sheen! Simply because there is not another speaker of his caliber and intellect. God made only one Fulton John Sheen. First of all, there was his intellectual composition. The odds that we will have another a prelate who could write more than 60 books — not to mention pamphlets, newspaper columns, etc. — is next to nothing.

Today, what we have are discourses. Sheen often said, “Discussions are nothing more than an excuse to make a decision.” So many of the writers today compose feel-good books, smorgasbord theology, cafeterias full of misinterpreted canon law.

Secularization and materialism are our downfall. Sheen stressed we are to be in this world, but not of this world. Today, hostility toward religion is due to the truth of Christ´s teaching. The salt of the truth attacks the wounds of our pride. It is a strange parody that the world should be hostile to religion when its main message is truth and spiritual peace.

Q: Why couldn´t the Church maintain the same tradition of the media presence after Sheen passed from the scene?

Ladd: All one has to do is assess the changes of the 1960s and 1970s, especially from the American perspective. Anything that resembled tradition was crucified. To add further insult to injury, the liberal American clergy threw out the baby with the bath water. Sheen was considered outdated.

We are now on the fringe of a Renaissance, but we have a long way to go. Our current philosophy is still the 15-minutes-of-fame and anything over 20 years old is ancient. This is obvious in the mind-set of the entertainment industry: We do remakes of the remakes, and sequels that never had a first part that made any sense.

The level of culture declines when the arts are not Christ-centered, not in the sense that they all must have a religious content, but that they have the standards and intellectualism that all artistic endeavors possess.

Add to that the statistic that 60% of the American population is reading at the fifth-grade level, and the short-term outlook is not bright.

Q: What could lay Catholics do today to revive the Church´s presence in the media?

Ladd: Archbishop Sheen said years ago that the laity will be responsible for the return to holiness and the comeback of the sacred.

The laity has to enter the secular market of the media. But few people are willing to risk being a media martyr. It is also going to take money. That is why we need Catholics who are already in the media to come forth and participate and make themselves known as Catholics and stand up to the secular mentality.

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