Former president Mary McAleese has said she has not received an acknowledgement or a reply to a letter she wrote to Pope Francis after the Vatican declined to approve her taking part in a conference in Rome.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mrs McAleese said she was sure that her letter had reached the pontiff, as it had been sent by diplomatic bag.

The annual 'Voices of Faith' conference is traditionally held in the Vatican.

However, it moved to another location in Rome outside the Vatican walls this year after a conservative US cardinal requested that three gay rights campaigners, including Mrs McAleese, be excluded from the programme.

Mrs McAleese called on the Catholic Church to come up with a strategy to further the inclusion of women.

She said that if the church was going to not ordain women as priests, then "you're going to have to find some strategy to include women".

Asked if she accepted the authority of the pope, she replied: "Of course I accept the authority of the pope. I'm a Catholic - of course I do."

She described Pope Francis as "not a great strategist", and said he is a "very spontaneous, almost scattergun person", traits which are "disarming and lovely", but added: "We're beyond the point where that is enough."

On Friday, Mrs McAleese told the conference that it is time to bring down the walls of misogyny in the Catholic Church.

She said that it has become a "primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny", and "a male bastion of patronising platitudes to which Pope Francis has added his own quota".

She said that the solution is readily available. "It is equality," she declared.

Mrs McAleese challenged Pope Francis, "a reforming pope", to commit to "real, practical action on behalf of women".

She described as "ludicrous" antiquated church systems, which render women "invisible and voiceless" where they are "expected to do all the hard work that keeps the church going".