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Leo Jozef Suenens (July 16, 1904May 6, 1996) was a Belgianmarker prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel from 1961 to 1979, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1962.

Suenens was a leading voice at the Second Vatican Council and advocated aggiornamento in the Church.


Early life and education

Leo Suenens was born at 6:30 a.m. in a clinic at Ixellesmarker to Jean-Baptiste and Jeanne (née Jannsens) Suenens. He was baptised by his uncle, who was also a priest. Losing his father (who had owned a restaurant) at age four, Leo lived with his mother in the rectory of his priest-uncle from 1911 to 1912. He studied at Saint Mary's Institute in Schaerbeekmarker and then entered the Pontifical Gregorian Universitymarker in Rome in 1920. From the Gregorian he obtained a doctorate in theology and in philosophy (1927), and a master's degree in canon law (1929). Suenens had taken as his mentor Désiré Cardinal Mercier, who had also sent him to Rome. Mercier's liberal views are seen as having greatly impacted Suenens' own theology.


Ordained to the priesthood on September 4, 1927 by Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey, Suenens initially served as a professor at Saint Mary's Institute and then taught moral philosophy and pedagogy at the Minor Seminary of Mechelen from 1930 to 1940. He worked as a chaplain to the 9th artillery regiment of the Belgian Army in Southern France for three months, and in August 1940 he became vice-rector of the famed Catholic University of Louvain. When the Louvain's rector was arrested by Nazi forces in 1943, Suenens took over as acting rector. Raised to the rank of Monsignor in October 1941, he was included on a list of thirty hostages who were to be executed by the Nazis, but the Allied liberation of Belgium occurred shortly before these orders could be carried out.

Episcopal Career

On November 12, 1945, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen and Titular Bishop of Isinda. Suenens received his episcopal consecration on the following December 16 from Cardinal van Roey, with Bishops Étienne Joseph Carton de Wiart and Jan van Cauwenbergh serving as co-consecrators. He was named Archbishop of Mechelen on November 24, 1961; the primatial Belgian see was renamed Mechelen-Brussel on December 8 of the same year. Suenens was created Cardinal Priest of S.marker Pietro in Vincolimarker by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of March 19, 1962.

Suenens was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 1963 papal conclave which selected Pope Paul VI.

He also voted in the conclaves of August and October 1978, and finally resigned from his post in Mechelen-Brussel on October 4, 1979 after seventeen years of service.

Second Vatican Council

When Pope John called the world's bishops to Rome for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he found in Suenens a man who shared his views on the need for renewal in the Church. When the first session fell into organizational chaos under the weight of its documents, it was Suenens who, at the invitation of the Pope, rescued it from deadlock and essentially set the agenda for the entire Council.

Paul VI made him one of the four moderators of the Council, along with Cardinals Agagianian, Döpfner, and Lercaro. Suenens was also believed to be a decisive force behind the Conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes.


Suenens died from thrombosis in Brusselsmarker at age 91, and was buried at St. Rumbolds Cathedralmarker.



After the Council, Suenens committed himself to implementing its reforms, although not without controversy.

Dialogue with the modern world

Dialogue with other Christian denominations as well as with other religions, the proper role of the laity, modernization of religious life for women, collegiality , religious liberty, collaboration and corresponsibility in the Church were among the causes he advocated at the Council.

His successor, Godfried Danneels, described him as an excellent weather-forecaster who knew from which direction the wind was blowing in the Church, and an experienced strategist who realized that he could not change the wind's direction but could set the sails to suit it. Pope John Paul II himself later attested that "Cardinal Suenens had played a decisive part in the Council".

Relations with the Curia

In May 1969, an interview he gave to the French Catholic magazine Informations Catholiques Internationales in which he offered a passionate critique of the Roman Curia. Eugène Cardinal Tisserant subsequently demanded a retraction, but Suenens refused and declared that Tisserant's reaction as unacceptable and unfounded. Ten years later, he reflected on the event and said, "There are times when loyalty demands more than keeping in step with an old piece of music. As far as I am concerned loyalty is a different kind of love. And this demands that we accept responsibility for the whole and serve the Church with as much courage and candor as possible."


Committed to ecumenism, he and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury were close friends.


During the Council's debates on marriage, Suenens accused the Church of holding procreation above conjugal love; Pope Paul was greatly distressed by this and the Cardinal later denied "that he had questioned the authentic Church teaching on marriage".

Humane Vitae

He also opposed Humanae Vitae, and endorsed the Catholic Charismatic Renewal ; his episcopal motto was In Spiritu Sancto ("In the Holy Spirit").

Orthodoxy and heterodoxy

Nevertheless, the Cardinal did not favor heterodox positions. He once said, "If you don't believe in the Holy Spirit or Resurrection or life after death, you should leave the Church".



See also

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