Former Irish president Mary McAleese has called on Pope Francis to "tear down" the Catholic Church's "walls of misogyny" and allow women to have greater decision-making roles in the Church.
During last week's symposium of Catholic women called "Why Women Matter," McAleese criticized the Church's ban on female priesthood, saying the policy had "locked women out of any significant role in the Church's leadership, doctrinal development and authority structure."
"We are here to shout, to bring down our Church's walls of misogyny," the former president said, adding that the Church's stance on keeping women in a subordinate role to men had "kept Christ out and bigotry in."
"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?" said McAleese as who served as Irish president between 1997 and 2011.
McAleese, who has an openly homosexual son, also railed against the Church's stance on homosexuality, saying its characterization of same-sex orientation as "disordered" can lead to harmful internal conflicts in homosexual Catholics.
The Women's Day event, which was attended by hundreds of people and seen by many others around the world via web-streaming, had to be moved from its traditional location in the Vatican to the Jesuit Center in Rome after the permit for the symposium was withdrawn when organizers added controversial speakers without permission.
On Wednesday, McAleese had described the Catholic Church as an "empire of misogyny" and complained that there are few leadership roles that are available to women.
She warned the pope that the exodus of women from the Church would continue unless he comes up with a "credible strategy" to give women equal roles in the Church.
"Failure to include women as equals has deprived the Church of fresh and innovative discernment; it has consigned it to recycled thinking among a hermetically sealed cosy male clerical elite flattered and rarely challenged," McAleese said, as reported by Life Site News.
U.S. Cardinal Kevin Farrell had requested that three gay rights campaigners, including McAleese, be removed from the event, saying it was "not appropriate" for the three to be taking part in the conference.
The Irish-born cardinal, who leads the dicastery for laity, family and life, said that the event in the Vatican presumes papal support, but maintained that he was open to dialogue with the group.
Other female speakers at the event included Polish theologian Zuzanna Radzik, who said that she struggles to make priests and bishops in her homeland take her seriously as an intellectual on par with men.
Many in the audience were nuns who cheered on the speakers when they demanded more rights for women, but there were no official representatives from the Vatican.