By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Dec 3 (Reuters) - In a highly unusual move, the Vatican has postponed the beatification of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a charismatic figure of U.S. Roman Catholicism in the 20th century and pioneer in religious media.
Sheen, who died in 1979 and was sometimes called the first "televangelist," was to have been beatified at a ceremony led by a Vatican cardinal in Peoria, Illinois on Dec. 21.
But the bishop of that diocese, Daniel Jenky, announced on Tuesday it would be postponed and that no new date had been chosen.
Jenky said in a statement that the Vatican postponed the beatification, which would have put Sheen one step closer to sainthood, after "a few" American bishops had "asked for further consideration".
The statement gave no further explanation but said "there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor". The Catholic Church's reputation has been damaged by sexual abuse of minors and cover-ups.
The delay of a beatification ceremony just weeks before it was to have taken place is believed to be unprecedented in living memory.
Pope Francis approved the beatification in July with a decree recognising a miracle attributed to Sheen's intercession with God.
One miracle must be attributed to a candidate for sainthood before beatification. A second miracle must be ascertained after beatification in order for sainthood to be conferred.
The Church teaches that only God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them. A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of a person.
"The Catholic Hour," which Sheen hosted between 1930 and 1950 on the NBC radio network, had an audience of four million.
Sheen moved to television with "Life is Worth Living" which had a prime time audience of 30 million people and did so well it challenged the rating of shows hosted by Frank Sinatra and other stars. The show ended in 1957. He returned to television in 1961 with The Fulton Sheen Program, which aired until 1968.
A theologian and author of some 80 books, Sheen used those shows not only to preach Christianity and bolster the U.S. Church but also to condemn Adolf Hitler during World War Two and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the early years of the Cold War. (Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Grant McCool)