Former president Mary McAleese has called on the Catholic Church to allow woman to become deacons.

Ms McAleese said it would be a breakthrough, a breach in the bunker of "really embedded misogyny" which goes very deep in the church.

Permanent deacons are ordained men who have no intention of becoming priests.

They can be married and have secular jobs to support their families. They support local priests by visiting the sick, teaching the faith, counselling couples and giving advice to the pastor.

They can baptize, witness marriages and perform funeral and burial services outside of saying Mass. They can also distribute communion and preach the homily.

They are called permanent deacons to distinguish them from seminarians, who spend a year as transitional deacons before being ordained as priests.

Speaking at an event in Trinity College Dublin themed 'The Women the Vatican couldn't silence', where she was in an onstage conversation with Sister Joan Chittister, Ms McAleese said she welcomed the decision by the Pope to reopen the question of admitting women to the permanent diaconate.

She added that allowing women deacons would not solve all the problems in the Catholic Church and that the voices of women need to be heard.

She said women are not just oppressed in the Catholic Church at the moment but actively suppressed.

Ms McAleese welcomed the recent call by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland for the role of women to be enhanced within the church, but added "it's not all about women priests" saying if the church insists on excluding women from the priesthood it must explain what role it sees for women.