0 NE of Liverpool's most distinguished visitors this week was Cardinal Suenens of Belgium. Like a couple of dozen other bishops he set up camp in Christ's College, a few miles from the City centre.
The Cardinal, who is 63, was one of the outstanding prelates at the Vatican Council and several of the Documents owe much to his influence.
He says he's not displeased with the way things have gone since the Council. "Vatican TI was intended to be a Spring in the Church and that is what it is now. But Spring can be in March, April or May and it can mean rain, fog or sunshine. I would say the Church's Spring is now in March.
"It is normal that in a transitional period some people will go too fast, others too slow. But Spring is never permanent. The Church is a Church for all seasons. It also has a Summer and a Winter. Perhaps I would have liked the transition to have been a little quieter."
The Cardinal gives the impression that he thinks the gap between the "progressives" and "conservative" groups in the Church has been overplayed. "I think it is a matter of accentuation," he says. "At the Council the conservatives stressed the idea of our being under Peter while the progressives said : 'Yes, under Peter, but also with Peter.'
"There are always extremes, however, and I do think that a really serious conservative must be more or less progressive."
He thinks that a permanent married diaconate will come "in the near future." Already he has a group of 20 potential deacons in the early Church, his diocese and working out the problems that will exist.
"The married diaconate," he says, "is a point I stressed at the Council. There were such deacons in the early Church, and today they could help so much especially in big cities. How can a priest alone cope? The deacons I have in mind will work either full or part time for the Church and have their weekends free.
"The problem will be what sort of preparation they require. I think the answer is for them to be prepared for a specific task rather than for something abstract. We have to work out a new image for the deacon. It will be a permanent state, not just a step to the priesthood." The Church is appealing more to young people now, the Cardinal says. "It is becoming more evangelical. Young people are surely open to the gospel and to evangelical simplicity. That is what we must do—simplify our ceremonial.
"Then, young people are always attracted by something generous. That's why I want to see what the Church does in response to the Pope's encyclical on world poverty. In Belgium we have started the Justice and Peace Commission on a national level and we're exploring all the practical possibilities."
One of the Cardinal's pet projects at present is the Synod of Bishops. "It is important," he says, "because it provides the possibility of regular meetings between the bishops and the Pope. This dialogue is most important. "The establishment of the Synod is the first step in line with the collegiality we voted for at the Council. It's not a permanent 'Council,' and at this stage it is only a consultative body. But the Pope has said that it may develop. "Some bishops have suggested that the Synod may in future elect the Pope instead of the College of Cardinals. I would favour this idea because it's more representative of the Church and stresses more the collegiality of the Church."