THE Catholic Church in Ireland must renew itself from within rather than blame its demise on society, culture or growing secularisation, the Archbishop of Dublin warned in his Christmas homily.
After another year when the Church's standing has taken a further battering, with the publication of the Cloyne Report, Dr Diarmuid Martin said "renewal in the Church must first come from conversion within the Church".
Speaking at midnight mass in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral on Christmas Eve, Dr Martin said: "It is very easy to point the finger and say that it is all due to society or to culture or to secularisation and even to hostility against faith".
"Conversion is not about fleeing from the realities of the world and society and culture and secularisation, it is about understanding them in a different light," he added.
Despite taking an apparent swipe earlier this month at social Catholics -- those who only go to church for big religious occasions -- Dr Martin welcomed "those whose bonds with Church life have slackened, but for whom this night still has a special place in their hearts" to midnight mass.
"I greet those who bear within them the hurt and wounds and doubts of life's hardships, especially if that hurt has sprung from their experience of the Church," he said. "All of us here this evening belong together."
Dr Martin said the Church must not bee seen as the establishment, but must return to a simpler message.
"In today's world and in today's Ireland there are many who are seeking to see where God belongs in their lives. They seek to understand and perhaps rekindle the faith that they have inherited. That heritage had however for many lost its simplicity.
"The starting point of their search for adult faith is all too often still the abstract God of ideas and ideologies and the theological formulae of their youth. Faith in God can only mature when we unite and identify ourselves with this Jesus who appears as the revelation of the loving kindness of God."
In his Christmas homily, Cardinal Sean Brady said he hoped Ireland will become "a more neighbourly place" next year.
"My hope and prayers for Ireland 2012 is that we become, once again, a more caring and neighbourly place especially in these austere recessionary times," Cardinal Brady said at Christmas Day mass in St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh.
"May we rediscover more clearly the spirit of generosity, reverence of the sacred, respect for creation, that have been our hallmark since the time of Saint Patrick. Deep down, I believe, we all yearn for the gentler, more compassionate society that Christmas represents."