Addressing the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association Conference in Dublin, he said the role of religion in Irish society has changed.
“There is a growing secularisation in Irish society,” he said.
“This is not entirely a bad thing, if we understand ... secularisation correctly.
“Very few of us would wish to return completely to the type of society many of us grew up in, where the Church dominated so much of Irish culture, and where the bishops and the clergy dominated the Church.
“Irish society and the Church in Ireland have changed and it must be said that the change has, in great part, been good.”
The archbishop said that, in the past, many thought the strength of the Church was in its numbers.
“But those numbers hid a faith and a commitment that was not as strong as many had imagined,” he said.
“They hid the fact that the faith was not being nourished sufficiently.”
However, he said the Church would not “simply take a bow and leave society for good”.
“Perhaps Christianity may become in a way a minority culture in Ireland. What is important is not about becoming a minority; what is important is that the Church becomes an active and creative minority, and never an irrelevant one.”
He said people of faith were often defensive when talking about religion in contemporary society.
“We appear as trying to justify our presence. We should rather start out from the point of view that religion has contributed to, continues to contribute to, and will continue to contribute to Irish society, as it contributes to any other society in the world.”