Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, once tipped as a future Pope, described the Roman Catholic Church as being “200 years behind” the times in his last interview excerpts from which were reported on Saturday.

The cardinal, who died on Friday at 85, said: “The Church is tired... our prayer rooms are empty.”

Cardinal Martini, who was an Archbishop for the key archdiocese of Milan for over two decades, was widely respected as a progressive and known for his outspoken views.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera recorded in August, he reportedly made a “sweeping criticism’’ of the Catholic Church and called for a radical change.

“Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureacracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous,” he said reportedly urging the Church to recognise “its errors’’.

Referring to the Church’s attitude towards divorced persons, he said unless it adopted a more generous attitude , it would lose the allegiance of future generations.

The issue, he said, was not whether divorced couples could receive holy communion, but how the Church could help complex family situations arising out of divorce. He supported the use of condom as what he called “the lesser evil’’.

The BBC’s Rome correspondent said Martini was “a courageous and outspoken figure during the 22 years he headed Europe’s largest Catholic diocese’’.

A member of the Jesuit religious order, he was interviewed by a fellow Jesuit priest.

Thousands of people were reported to be filing past his coffin at the Milan’s cathedral.

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