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Sainthood closer for U.S. Archbishop Sheen, an early televangelist

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the world's first televangelists, has moved closer to sainthood after a team of theologians agreed a reported miracle should be attributed to his intercession, church officials said on Wednesday.

The miracle attributed to Sheen involved a baby born in September 2010, according to a statement from the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, where Sheen once served as a priest.

The baby boy showed no signs of life for an hour after birth as medical professionals tried to revive him, the diocese said. The child's family sought Sheen's intercession, and the baby was restored to life, the statement said.

The theologians had reviewed a previous analysis in March by a team of doctors, who found there was no natural explanation for the baby's revival, said Monsignor Stanley Deptula of Peoria, director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation.

"Clearly, God performed this action through Fulton Sheen's prayers," Deptula said of the commission's finding.

The theologians' findings will next be reviewed by the cardinals and bishops who advise the pope on causes for sainthood, and they could make their finding this autumn, Deptula said. Pope Francis would then have to affirm the miracle in order for Sheen to be beatified.

A second affirmed miracle would lead to Sheen being declared a saint. If Sheen is beatified, he would be the first man born in the United States to receive the honor, Deptula said.

Sheen, who died in 1979, gained fame both as the host of "The Catholic Hour" radio program from 1930 to 1950 and the 1950s television show "Life is Worth Living." Sheen also had been bishop of Rochester, New York.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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