Pope Francis has warned that "rigidity" in observing the Christian faith is creating a "minefield" of hatred and misunderstanding in a world where Christianity is increasing irrelevant.
Francis called for Vatican bureaucrats to embrace change during his annual Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who work in the Holy See.
His message appeared aimed at conservative and traditionalist Catholics, including within the Vatican Curia, who have voiced increasing opposition to his progressive-minded papacy.
Their criticisms have accelerated over the past year amid Vatican financial and sex abuse scandals that may have predated Francis's papacy but are coming to light now.
Francis issued a stark reality check to the men in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, acknowledging that Christianity no longer holds the commanding presence in society that it once did.
"Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to," he told them. "The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalised and ridiculed."
As a result, he urged the Catholic hierarchy to embrace pastoral reforms that will make the church attractive so it can fulfil its mission to spread the faith.
"Here we have to beware of the temptation of assuming a rigid outlook," Francis said. "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 said 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."
Traditionalist Catholics have denounced Francis's emphasis on mercy and openness to doctrinal wiggle room on issues such as sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. They also 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 axiom that the true tradition of the church is one of a discerned path of change.
"Tradition is not static, it's dynamic," he said.