A former president of Ireland has criticised the Catholic Church as “an empire of misogyny”.
Mary McAleese was speaking in Rome ahead of the Voices of Faith conference, which features prominent Catholic women from around the world.
They are celebrating International Women’s Day by demanding a greater say for women in Church governance.
Pope Francis has declined to attend their meeting or to celebrate Mass for those attending.
Vatican Radio has censored its reports on their demand for gender equality.
“The Catholic Church is one of the last great bastions of misogyny,” said Mrs McAleese. “It’s an empire of misogyny.
“There are so few leadership roles currently available to women.
Mrs McAleese said women do not have strong role models in the Church they can look up to.
A Church hierarchy that is “homophobic and anti-abortion is not the Church of the future”, she added.
“We don’t want to be what the Pope describes as ‘the strawberry on the cake’, she said.
“Our voices stir the winds of change, so we must speak out,” she added.
In previous years this Catholic women’s movement has celebrated International Women’s Day by meeting inside the Vatican, but this year their list of 2018 speakers did not meet with official approval.
Senior Vatican officials took objection to the inclusion of a Ugandan woman who champions Lesbian and Gay Catholic rights in her country, where homosexuality is a crime.
They also excluded Tina Beattie, an English Catholic professor of theology.
Irish-born US cardinal Kevin Farrell, a senior Vatican official, said it was “not appropriate” for the women to be taking part in the conference.
The meeting is now taking place in the headquarters of the Jesuit religious order just across the road from Vatican City.
Pope Francis has said he supports greater inclusion of women in top Vatican jobs, but is not in favour of allowing women to be ordained as priests.