CARDINAL LEO Suenens, one of the most courageous and outspoken advocates of liberal Catholicism, died on Monday at the age of 91.
In a telegram to the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, Pope John Paul remembered Cardinal Suenens as being devoted "with intense apostolic ardour to the service of his archdiocese and the Church in Belgium".
Born in Brussels in 1904, Suenens was educated by the Marist brothers and, after studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, was ordained priest in 1940. Consecrated Bishop in 1945 as auxiliary to the Archbishop of Malines, he became Archbishop of Malines six years later. Cardinal Suenens resigned in 1979 at the statutory retiring age of 75.
The Cardinal came to prominence in the early 1960s, when Pope John XXIII assembled the world's Bishops for the Second Vatican Council. The two men were of similar bent of mind; both were fearless in their support for church unity and "letting the fresh air into tho Church".
At Vatican II, Suenens was considered the star among the band of people who presided
over the proceedings. H,2 had a major input over two main documents: Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the Church and Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution of the Church in the modem world.
An impatient man, he had a problem with Bishops making long speeches. He told them not to continually address each other as "Your Eminence" or "Your Grace", adding: "I see nothing in the Gospels that the Apostles addressed each other in that way". Later he imposed time limits on speeches, saying "otherwise we'll be all be here longer than they were at Trent and I don't think any of you want that".
Suenens was responsible for many new initiatives in the Church. He requested that Bishops retire at 75, thus relinquishing their palaces. When the Bishops broke off for a mid-morning drink, they all made a point of avoiding him. "They treated me as if I had some very dangerous disease, nobody wanted to be seen taking to me".
The Cardinal was never considered a safe pair of hands. His passion for the charismatic movement led him to support holding hands and formalise dancing in the aisles. At one time considered as a potential successor to Pope Paul VI, he told a journalist in the early 1970s: "If you are thinking of becoming Pope you do not give press interviews".
Suenens supported opening contacts between Catholics and other Christian faiths, one of the main outcomes of the Second Vatican Council. He also spoke in favour of greater collegiality within the Vatican hierarchy. The Cardinal got in hot water on a number of occasions. He was prepared to entertain the notion of married priests, at a time when the idea was as alien as the ordination of women. He actively encouraged debate on celibacy, which caused Pope Paul "grieved astonishment".
He had original ideas on how the Church should be run. After Pope Paul refused to answer his letters, the Cardinal gave an interview to a French magazine in which he complained about the authoritative hierarchy of the Church, the repressive attitude towards liberal theologians, the too restricted role the Church was permitting to women religious and the Vatican's failure to grasp the growth of higher education.
An inveterate reader of books and a lover of football, he was presented with the Templeton Foundation Prize for advancing religion.
A friend of Dr Ramsey, the two co-wrote The Future of the Christian Church, and the Cardinal arranged for Ramsey to celebrate Holy Communion in St Michael's Cathedral in Brussels. A Catholic traditionalist let off a stink bomb in protest.