Former Irish President Mary McAleese has told the Catholic Church that the ‘Old Boys Club’ has to go.

Speaking at a packed conference in Australia, the theology student urged the church to change with the times.

In an interview with radio presenter Andrew West at Sydney Town Hall, she also remarked on a local Catholic paper's refusal to carry adverts for the event.

West said: “We have to thank the Catholic Weekly for a full house today.”

The Irish Times reports that McAleese replied: “I had emails from friends in America and Japan saying ‘what’s going on in Sydney’?”

The paper refused to carry the adverts in response to McAleese’s outspoken views on the church’s refusal to ordain female priests.

She told the Sydney conference that trying to be heard by the Catholic Church hierarchy was ‘comparable to shouting at children.’

Former President McAleese said: “If I’m yelling it’s because you didn’t listen to me when I said it nicely . . . I look at the curia and I don’t know too many of them who have gone through equal opportunity training.”

The Irish Times reports that McAleese told the Australian audience that the governance of the church and the structure of church government needs to change.

She said: “The church is not terribly happy with criticism. I’m saying that as gently as possible ... The church, which will not listen to people who speak out of love, has a very big problem.”

Asked about the church in Ireland, McAleese said though 90 percent of the population of the Republic were nominally Catholic “regrettably fewer and fewer” were interested in the church.

She said: “Child abuse revelations greatly affected people’s view of the church. Everything you thought you had, everything you thought you were, becomes a lie.”

The Irish Times also reports that McAleese said when she was president a senior cleric laughed at her when she said the church should open up its files on child abuse or the state would force it to do so.

She added: “He told me that he State would never cross that line. A week later, the State crossed that line.

“Stories came out thanks to the courage of the victims and the media, not thanks to the church.”

Former president and theologian Mary McAleese.Photocall