Claims by former president Mary McAleese that a recent senior appointment in the Vatican was evidence of an "old boys' club" has been rejected by the Australian diocese involved.
In a public interview at UCD on Monday, Ms McAleese criticised the way in which Cardinal George Pell, Australia's highest ranking Catholic, had appointed the business manager of his archdiocese to a new financial oversight post in Rome.
“That job was not openly advertised,” she said. “I am making no point about the man’s qualifications; I understand he is exceptionally well qualified. That is not the point.
“Here was an opportunity to introduce a process in which people who had necessary qualifications could put themselves forward and we would get - through a transparent process - the best person for the job, who might have been a man, or a woman, it could have been somebody from Kurdistan or somebody from Ireland, or it could have been a gentleman from Sydney.
“But it just looks to me like the gravitational pull of old boys’ clubs is going to need more than mere words which say ‘we have to do something about it’.”
Rejecing the criticism, however, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Sydney said the official, Danny Casey, had been contracted "to a specific position, for a specific job and for a short term period" in the Vatican's new Secretariat for the Economy.
“I understand however the new secretariat meantime has already indicated the establishment of proper employment protocols and procedures with job descriptions and selection processes,” she said. “Perhaps when these are in place it will be the time to review and comment.”
Questioning the assertion that only men were being appointed to senior curial jobs in the Vatican, the spokeswoman added: "It is interesting to note a new member of the Financial Information Authority is Maria Bianca Farina, the head of two Italian insurance companies."
The Italian executive was appointed by Pope Francis last June after he had sacked the previous five-man board from the Vatican oversight authority.
In her talk on Monday, Ms McAleese described as "completely bonkers" Pope Francis's plan to ask a synod of bishops to advise him on whether church teaching on the family should change. She also questioned whether the pontiff would deliver on his promise to "address the exclusion of women from so many areas of decision making".
She said: “The pope has argued that we need a new theology of women. I wrote to him yesterday and said we might do that actually but in terms of these jobs you don’t need a new theology of women; you just need to end old boys clubs and you need to introduce equal opportunities processes…
“We have a college of cardinals and I will take a punt that none of them have been through an equal opportunities training programme.”