A senior Italian cardinal said the Catholic church was "200 years behind the times" in a final interview given before he died.

Carlo Maria Martini, once tipped as as successor to Pope John Paul II, died on Friday aged 89.

In the interview with Italian newspaper Corierre Della Serra he criticised the Catholic Church, warning that they needed a change in culture and attitude if they were to attract younger generation

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Carlo Maria Martini was a senior figure in the Roman Catholic Church

He told the paper "the church has grown tired.. our prayer rooms have grown empty," reported the BBC.

He called on the institution to adopt more progressive attitudes towards divorce and birth control. As an example he insisted it was not important to argue over whether divorcees should receive holy communion, but to discuss instead how the church could help those with difficult family circumstances.

Martini, who served as archbishop of Milan for over 20 years, was known as one of the Roman Catholic church's most progressive senior figures.

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Carlo Maria Martini with Pope Benedict XVI

He expressed his views diplomatically, despite being strikingly liberal at times. He once hinted that he was not opposed to female priests and spoke out in favour of using condoms to prevent aids. In 2006, he argued that condoms were a "lesser evil."

Highly regarded both as a scholar and a cardinal, thousands have gone to pay their respects to Martini who is currently lying in state in Milan cathedral.

lying in state