Former Irish President Mary McAleese has demanded more influence for women in the Catholic Church.
The well known politician and now a theologian told a Cambridge University gathering that women, the laity and the Bishops must be given more power by the Vatican church leaders.
McAleese said bishops should not be yes men for those who run the Church from Rome.
She said: “Bishops should be encouraged not to be yes men but leaders who can speak freely, who consult with rank-and-file Catholics and then make decisions along with the pope.
“Senior church leaders have until now believed the church could only survive through unquestioning obedience to the exclusively top-down teaching magisterium.
“That tight-grip approach has had very damaging consequences for the church in the modern world.”
Speaking on the topic of church governance to the Van Hugel Institute in Cambridge, McAleese urged Pope Francis to give a synod of bishops decision-making powers.
She added: “He should do this even though no pope has ever done so and Pope Benedict is on record as being against doing so.
“Yet this is by far the most straightforward way of creating at least an embryonic form of collegial Episcopal decision-making in the Catholic Church.
“The most exciting way of bringing about reform would be to give a direct voice to each bishop, where issues would be decided by a majority canvassed by post or email.”
The former President of Ireland repeated her beliefs that rank and file Catholics deserve a greater role in church governance.
She added: “The absence of laity and in particular women from ecclesial decision-making and high- level spheres of influence is a line that cannot hold; in fact it is a line that is rapidly leaching trust and credibility.
“Pope Francis has openly acknowledged the problem that exists, but he has not yet put forward any practical solutions.
“Bishops have already displayed an appetite for change and the noisy, messy, argumentative church envisaged by Pope John XXIII in the Vatican Council in the 1960s.
“Such a healthy, vibrant debate would see a Catholic Church engaged in active listening and talking top-down, sideways and bottom-up, unafraid of bad news, unafraid of healthy debate.”
Now studying canon law in Dublin and Rome, McAleese added: “Pope Francis arrived from Argentina with a blowtorch in his suitcase but it was difficult to know if the charismatic and popular Francis has time on his side.
“His refreshing approach seems to have slowed the tide of cynicism, but whether he can turn the tide remains to be seen.”