Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols describes the government's plan for gay marriage as undemocratic and a "shambles".

Archbishop: UK plans for gay marriage a 'shambles' (R)

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said there was no mandate to enforce same-sex marriage laws "and yet here we are on the verge of primary legislation."

"From a democratic point of view, it's a shambles," he said in an interview with the BBC. "There was no announcement in any party manifesto, no Green Paper, no statement in the Queen's Speech."

The religious leader said that during a "period of listening", those who responded were seven to one against same-sex marriage.

"George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic," the Archbishop said.

Speaking to the congregation at Westminster Cathedral during Christmas Eve mass, Archbishop Nichols said that "even governments mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young."

Pope: pray for Syria

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI used his Christmas message to the world on Tuesday to say people should never lose hope for peace, even in wartorn Syria and in Nigeria where he spoke of "terrorism" against Christians.

"May peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims," he said.

The 85-year-old read his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square and millions of others watching around the world.

The pope used the Biblical analogy of the "good soil" to underscore his view that the hope represented by Christmas should never die, even in the most dire situations.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also condemned conflicts in Mali and Nigeria, two countries where Islamist groups have waged violent campaigns.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury was using his final Christmas Day sermon to reflect on the damage to the church's credibility caused by the General Synod's vote against women bishops.

Speaking at Canterbury Cathedral, Rowan Williams was to reportedly address how he has been inspired by meeting people who have experienced great suffering, such as victims of gang violence.