IT WAS the issue that dominated Catholic Church politics during 2010 -- but most bishops chose not to address clerical sex abuse during their Christmas homilies.
In a year dominated by the fallout from the horrendous catalogue of paedophile clerics, personified by the imprisonment of ex-priest Tony Walsh, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was exceptional in his trenchant remarks on the biggest crisis yet to threaten the future credibility of the Irish church.
Other senior clerics seized on the big freeze and the economic recession to deliver pious homilies about the message of redemption offered by the stable in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
Few sermons were directed at abuse victims who remain deeply alienated from Rome and a church leadership in Ireland which, they believe, has failed to meet their demands for justice.
But Dr Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, warned that the Irish Catholic Church could be "doomed to wither" if it does not return to the simple spirit of the Child Jesus.
Speaking at Christmas Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, Dr Martin said "the horrific story" of clerical child abuse scandals showed how the Irish church lost the sense of surprise at the message of Jesus.
Instead it became "a tired, stale, smug and self-serving Church".
"When the lifestyle of the church becomes smug and self-serving it loses its real source of life and is doomed to wither," he warned.
Dr Martin pointed out that in every generation the church had to renew itself and strip itself of false symbols.
But he warned that church renewal was not simply about structures and organisation, no matter how important these could be.
And he insisted that reform would come above all through allowing the message of Jesus to surprise us.
"God is not one who shows power for the sake of power, but one who shows us that the deepest values in life and existence are about simplicity, goodness and love," he said.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean Brady, speaking at midnight Mass in Armagh Cathedral, singled out drivers delivering milk, bread and fuel as heroes of "the Big Freeze Christmas" of 2010.
He prayed that the light of hope of the Child Jesus born in the manager at Bethlehem would bring hope to Ireland at this difficult time.
The Primate of All Ireland said he was struck by how much people worried about the Christmas journeys they could or could not make -- to work, to shops, to hospitals, or to
"I was surprised how the snow helps us realise how much we depend on others," said Cardinal Brady.
"On doctors and nurses of course, but also on drivers of bread vans and milk lorries -- on fuel tankers, on shopkeepers and farmers, as well as on plumbers and panel beaters."
Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, preaching in the cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, Co Tipperary, said the white Christmas which crooner Bing Crosby dreamed could be a nightmare in reality.
But Archbishop Clifford said that neither the bad weather nor the recession dampened the good news proclaimed in St Luke's Gospel of the birth of the Child Jesus.