The Minister for Culture has questioned the credibility of the Catholic Church's teaching that God approves gender discrimination against women who feel called to the priesthood.

Josepha Madigan told a meeting of church reformers that Catholicism is at the core of who she is, but that the Church continues to be weakened because of what she called its "brazen discrimination" against women.

She was speaking at the 'We Are Church' meeting, which was controversially moved from a Dublin city convent to a hotel following indications that protestors would picket the planned visit to a Catholic-owned venue of one of the abortion referendum's most prominent 'Yes' campaigners.

Like thousands of women worldwide, the minister reads scripture to congregations at Sunday Masses, and has clashed with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin over her recent calls for women to be ordained.

Ms Madigan told this evening's gathering that the Church's message still matters when over three-quarters of residents here are Catholic.

She contrasted the 64% increase in the global Catholic population in the generation after 1975 with the 1% rise in the number of priests over the same three decades.

And she underlined this weekend's warning by Dr Larry Duffy, the new bishop of the border diocese of Clogher, that three of his parishes are becoming priestless for the first time this week.

He is discussing with priests and laypeople the possibility of laypeople replacing priests at some liturgies.

"Some elements of funeral liturgies may be part of this, such as the reception of remains at the church," he told the Irish Independent.

Ms Madigan told the meeting: "How long will it take for the Catholic Church to realise that their prohibition on women priests is not just at best brazen discrimination but at worst could lead to the slow death of their beloved Church in its entirety?"

She said the Church is being unfair when it professes to value Catholic women but only in certain roles, while still wanting them to keep the faith alive for future generations.