Pope Francis has used his Christmas message to warn followers that rigidly following the Christian faith is creating a 'minefield' of hate and misunderstanding.
The head of the Roman Catholic church spoke candidly to cardinals, bishops, priests and members of staff in the Sala Clementina in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, today as he also sought to remind them that the church no longer enjoys the authority it once did.
The papacy has been rocked by historical sex abuse claims and financial scandals this year.
And the Pope's leadership has been challenged after he called for married men to be ordained as priests, and was seen with a 'pagan' statue of a pregnant woman while in the Amazon.
During his Christmas message, which was also delivered at the Paul VI Hall, Vatican City, the pope also asked Vatican bureaucrats to consider embracing change.
'Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to,' he said.
'The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalised and ridiculed.'
'Here we have to beware of the temptation of assuming a rigid outlook.
'Rigidity that is born from fear of change and ends up disseminating stakes and obstacles in the ground of the common good, turning it into a minefield of misunderstanding and hatred.'
He recalled, as he has in the past, that people who take rigid positions are usually using them to mask their own problems, scandals or 'imbalances'.
'Rigidity and imbalance fuel one another in a vicious circle,' he said. 'And these days, the temptation to rigidity has become so apparent.'
Francis' message appeared aimed at conservative and traditionalist Catholics, including within the Vatican Curia, who have voiced increasing opposition to his progressive-minded papacy.
Traditionalist Catholics have denounced Francis' emphasis on mercy and openness to doctrinal wiggle room on issues such as sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
They also sharply criticised his recent synod on the Amazon, which called for the ordination of married men as priests, and what they considered pagan worship of an Amazonian statue of a pregnant woman that was featured during the meeting.
Francis has defended his outlook and priorities as a reflection of the Gospel, and the axium that the true tradition of the church is one of a discerned path of change.
'Tradition is not static, it's dynamic,' he said today.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.