World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Leo Joseph Suenens

His Eminence
Leo Jozef Suenens
Cardinal, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel
Primate of Belgium
See Mechelen-Brussel
Installed 24 November 1961
Term ended 4 October 1979
Predecessor Jozef-Ernest van Roey
Successor Godfried Danneels
Other posts Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen (1945–61)
Ordination 4 September 1927
Consecration 16 December 1945
Created Cardinal 19 March 1962
Personal details
Born (1904-07-16)16 July 1904
Ixelles, Belgium
Died 6 May 1996(1996-05-06) (aged 91)
Brussels, Belgium

Leo Jozef Suenens (16 July 1904 – 6 May 1996) was a Belgian 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.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and education 1.1
    • Priesthood 1.2
    • Episcopal career 1.3
    • Second Vatican Council 1.4
    • Death 1.5
  • Views 2
    • Reforms 2.1
    • Dialogue with the modern world 2.2
    • Relations with the Curia 2.3
    • Ecumenism 2.4
    • Marriage 2.5
    • Humanae Vitae 2.6
    • Orthodoxy and heterodoxy 2.7
  • Charismatic Renewal 3
  • Trivia 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Early life and education

Leo Suenens was born at 6:30 am in a clinic at Ixelles 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)[1] 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 Schaerbeek and then entered the Pontifical Gregorian University 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 Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, who had also sent him to Rome.


Ordained to the priesthood on 4 September 1927 by Cardinal Jozef-Ernest 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

Styles of
Leo Jozef Suenens
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Mechelen-Brussel

On 12 November 1945, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen and Titular Bishop of Isinda. Suenens received his episcopal consecration on the following 16 December 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 24 November 1961; the primatial Belgian see was renamed Mechelen-Brussel on 8 December of the same year. Suenens was created Cardinal Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of 19 March 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 4 October 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 Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian, Julius Döpfner, and Giacomo 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 Brussels at age 91,[2] and was buried at St. Rumbolds Cathedral. At the time of his death he was one of the four living Cardinals elevated by Pope John XXIII.

After his death, Belgian police drilled into his tomb and that of Cardinal Jozef-Ernest Van Roey, searching for documents connected to the sex abuse scandal, which had supposedly been buried with the cardinals.[3]



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,[4] collegiality,[5][6] 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".[7]

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.[1] Eugène-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant subsequently demanded a retraction, but Suenens refused and declared that Tisserant's reaction as unacceptable and unfounded.[8] 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.[9]


During the Council's debates on marriage, Suenens accused the Church of holding procreation above conjugal love;[10] Pope Paul was greatly distressed by this and the Cardinal later denied "that he had questioned the authentic Church teaching on marriage".[11]

Humanae Vitae

According to Time Magazine, Suenens counseled the Pope against the releasing of his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae.[12]

Orthodoxy and heterodoxy

Suenens once remarked, "If you don't believe in the Holy Spirit or Resurrection or life after death, you should leave the Church".[1]

Charismatic Renewal

He endorsed the Catholic Charismatic Renewal;[13][14] his episcopal motto was In Spiritu Sancto ("In the Holy Spirit").


See also


  1. ^ a b c "Roman Catholics: The Cardinal as Critic". TIME. 1969-08-01. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Police 'Sex Abuse Cover Up' Raid on Belgian Cardinals' Tombs Slammed by Vatican". MedIndia. 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  4. ^ "The Vatican Council: A Mind of Its Own". TIME. 1964-11-20. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  5. ^ "Roman Catholics: Council on the Move". TIME. 1963-11-08. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  6. ^ "Roman Catholics: The Prelates Speak Out". TIME. 1969-10-24. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ "Compass Vol. 14 #3, Schaper and Catoir Articles". Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  10. ^ "Roman Catholics: No More Galileos". TIME. 1964-11-06. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Religion: Birth Control: Pronouncement Withdrawn". TIME. 1968-06-21. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  13. ^ "Religion: The Pentecostal Tide". TIME. 1973-06-18. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  14. ^ "What is the Nature of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal?". 2003-09-19. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church - Biographies - S". Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  17. ^ "Religion: How Pope John Paul I Won". TIME. 1978-09-11. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 

External links

  • Suenens Centre
  • Suenens' Speech to the Legion of Mary in Liverpool
  • Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  • Catholic-Hierarchy
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jozef-Ernest van Roey
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel
Succeeded by
Godfried Danneels
Preceded by
Teodósio de Gouveia
Cardinal-Priest of the San Pietro in Vincoli
Succeeded by
Jean Marie Balland
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.