Former Irish president condemns Catholic Church as 'empire of misogyny'

The Catholic Church is "an empire of misogyny" and must reform its traditionalist outlook if it wants to stay relevant, former Irish President Mary McAleese has claimed.

Catholic women meeting at an worldwide conference in Rome have called on Pope Francis to ensure greater decision-making roles for women in the church.

"The event brings Catholic women from across the globe to share their experiences and create dialogue with leaders at the headquarters of the Catholic Church on gender equality, inclusion and leadership".

"How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership?" she said in her address. That was the same year the Episcopal Church in the United States voted to admit women to the priesthood, so the Vatican statement was a clear sign that a rift was opening up between Catholicism and mainline Protestantism that would only grow wider, in many respects, as the years passed.

The annual conference is traditionally held in the Vatican, but is moving to a different location in Rome after a conservative USA cardinal demanded that three gay rights activists including McAleese be excluded from the event. Voices of Faith had been organizing similar conferences since 2014.

Many in the audience were nuns, who cheered on the speakers who demanded more rights for women in the Church.

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"I'm not even going to be bothered arguing it. The new Mary thinks the church should be refashioned to fit her new-found social liberalism".

In effect, McAleese said, a strategic choice has been made to call the system's bluff, given that women priests are off the table.

Catholic Church leaders, including Pope Francis, have declined to attend the annual conference, which is normally held within the grounds of the Vatican, after a prominent U.S. cardinal opposed the inclusion of three pro-LGBT rights campaigners, including Ms McAleese herself. "We watch the exodus of talented, educated young women".

McAleese, who was president between 1997 and 2011, will speak today at the annual "Voices of Faith" conference on Catholic women's rights in Rome for International Women's Day.

"Let's move on strategically now", she said.

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