Former Irish president Mary McAleese has attacked Pope Francis’s decision to ask a synod of bishops to advise him on the Catholic Church’s teaching on family, describing the Pope's initiative as "bonkers."

Speaking at an awards ceremony in University College Dublin, where she was presented with the Ulysses medal, McAleese attacked the pontiff’s decision to ask a collection of celibate men to formulate policy on the family.

The Irish Times reports that she described the move as ‘completely bonkers.’

She said: “There is just something profoundly wrong and skewed about asking 150 male celibates to review the Catholic Church’s teaching on family life.

“The very idea of 150 people who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses – so they have no adult experience of family life as the rest of us know it – but they are going to advise the pope on family life; it is completely bonkers.”

Now studying canon law in Rome, McAleese said Pope Francis had ‘raised expectations of change but the odds of this happening were very poor.’

Commenting on the pope’s desire to see a new role for women in the church, she said discussion of women priests was off the table while other senior roles in the Vatican continue to be filled by men in a manner which lacked transparency.

McAleese added: “You don’t need a new theology of women, you just need to end the old boys club.

“I hope the October synod will be a process of real introspection and debate, but I have not yet moved from hope to expectation.”

The paper reports that the Vatican has circulated a questionnaire worldwide seeking feedback on pastoral issues of marriage and family.

McAleese said: “I wrote back and said I said I’ve got a much simpler questionnaire and it’s only got one question and here it is: How many of the men who will gather to advise you as pope on the family have ever changed a baby’s nappy? I regard that as a very, very serious question.”