Former president Mary McAleese has accused Pope Francis of being in a mode of thinking that puts the defence of the Catholic Church as an institution ahead of the interests of victims of clerical child sexual abuse.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Ms McAleese said she was astounded by the pontiff’s attack on victims in Chile earlier this year - for which he subsequently apologised.

She said he had called them liars in spite of having received briefings from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins and others about what was really going on in the South American country, but chose to believe the Chilean bishops’ denials rather than victims.

"I was astounded by what happened in Chile, because I did believe that this pope was different, because he said that he was going to be," she said.

Ms McAleese said the Argentinean pontiff’s mode of thinking in putting the defence of the institution first was due to his formation as a priest and as a bishop.  

She said the covering-up of abuse by bishops was not only systemic, but that it was directed from what she called "central command and control, which is the Vatican".

Ms McAleese, who is also a doctoral student of church - or canon - law, also said that she had made a canonical complaint to Pope Francis about Cardinal Kevin Farrell's decision to ban her speaking at an International Women’s Day conference in the Vatican in March of this year.

She added that to date she has received neither a reply nor an acknowledgement.

She said she could only presume that since the pope is his immediate superior, that the ban was imposed with papal approval.