Mary McAleese describes Catholic Church as 'an empire of misogyny'
FORMER president Mary McAleese has described the Catholic Church as "an empire of misogyny".
Mrs McAleese, an outspoken advocate for women's ordination and gay rights, also urged the Church to embrace equality.
Her comments came ahead of her attendance at the Voices of Faith conference in Rome, which features prominent Catholic women from around the world.
Mrs McAleese was the speaker at an International Women's Day conference that was moved off Vatican territory because a cardinal declined to sponsor it due to her participation.
Pope Francis declined to attend their meeting or to celebrate Mass for those attending. Vatican Radio also edited its reports on their demand for gender equality.
Speaking to reporters before the conference, Mrs McAleese said: "The Catholic Church is one of the last great bastions of misogyny. It's an empire of misogyny. There are so few leadership roles currently available to women."
She added that a Church hierarchy that is "homophobic and anti-abortion is not the Church of the future".
"We don't want to be what the Pope describes as 'the strawberry on the cake', she said.
"Our voices stir the winds of change, so we must speak out."
The Why Women Matter conference, organised by Voices of Faith to mark International Women’s Day, made headlines last month after it emerged that the Vatican had barred Mrs McAleese and another speaker from taking part in the event.
The conference was due to take place in the Holy See, but organisers were forced to move the location to enable their speakers to take part.
In her speech, delivered later at the Rome headquarters of Francis' Jesuit order, Ms McAleese said: "The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny.
"Its leadership has never sought a cure for that virus though the cure is freely available. Its name is equality."