The Catholic Church is “an empire of misogyny” and must reform its traditionalist outlook if it wants to stay relevant, former Irish President Mary McAleese has claimed.

McAleese, who led Ireland from 1997 to 2011, was speaking in Rome, Italy, ahead of the Voices of Faith conference, the BBC reported.

The meeting—taking place on International Women’s Day—invites prominent Catholic women from around the world to speak at the conference, and campaigns for greater inclusion of the church’s female members within its leadership.

“The Catholic Church is one of the last great bastions of misogyny,” McAleese said. “It's an empire of misogyny.”

McAleese lamented the lack of leadership roles available to women in the church, and said female Catholics do not have strong role models to look up to.

“Our voices stir the winds of change, so we must speak out,” McAleese said. “We don’t want to be what the Pope describes as ‘the strawberry on the cake.'”

She also warned that church doctrine must change to stay current, suggesting that a hierarchy that is “homophobic and anti-abortion is not the church of the future.” McAleese, whose son is gay, has campaigned for same-sex rights in the Catholic church for 40 years, Irish broadcaster RTÉ said.

Pope Francis has refused to attend the Voices of Faith meeting or to celebrate mass for those attending. Vatican Radio has also censored its reports on the group’s demands for gender equality.

The Pope has received many plaudits for his approach to social issues, which is far more liberal than most of his predecessors. While the international community has largely approved of his approach, some conservative Catholics have been critical.

Despite the “no-frills” Pope’s seemingly more liberal approach, the church’s stance on greater female inclusion, homosexuality and abortion does not seem to be shifting. Whether this is the Pope’s choice, or the wider church asserting its power, is unclear.

The child sex abuse scandals involving the church also continue to rumble on, amid suggestions that the Pope is not doing enough to root out offenders and their protectors within the Vatican.

Unlike in previous years, the 2018 Voices of Faith event will not be held in the Vatican because church authorities did not approve its list of speakers. The BBC reported that senior church officials disagreed with the inclusion of a woman who campaigns for lesbian and gay Catholic rights in Uganda, and a British Catholic theology professor. McAleese’s invitation to speak was also opposed by the Vatican.

U.S. cardinal Kevin Farrell, who was born in Ireland and is a senior Vatican official, said it was “not appropriate” for the women to be taking part in the conference. He was also reportedly the official that blocked McAleese’s inclusion in the list of speakers for the event.

Pope Francis has said he supports greater inclusion of women in top Vatican jobs, but is not in favor of allowing women to be ordained as priests. McAleese dismissed opposition to female priests as “codology dressed up as theology.”