I READ with interest the comments of Hugh McLoughlin (Letters, March 19) and was surprised that he asserted that Pope Francis does not lead an autocratic church.

I have been a practising Catholic since my birth 62 years ago and there is little in my experience to lead me to believe that it is anything other than autocratic.

Consultation with the body of the church (that is, church-goers like myself) is minimal and we have no say in who leads us or makes decisions on our behalf. You do not need a "despot" to live in an autocracy.

Over a lifetime one chooses to stay within this autocracy or to leave. As a female, within a church which gives women little or no voice, I have chosen to stay, but like many Catholic women - and men - I make decisions on what I choose or do not choose to accept in terms of the practice of my faith. I make such decisions based on prayer, my relationship with God, and intelligent analysis.

I am rarely asked my opinion on matters pertaining to the church by any member of the autocracy, whether these be lay members or clergy.

Indeed, only once in my life have I been offered a forum in which to express my opinions formally. I therefore very much welcomed the opportunity to engage in the recent online survey set up by Pope Francis, in which opinions were canvassed. I await the results with interest. My regret is that the survey did not go far enough to open up lines of discussion regarding important issues. On a positive note this is an indication that things are changing. Here's hoping.

In informal settings, when one does express opinions regarding the practice and laws of the church, one tends to be regarded as a loose cannon, anti-Catholic or just plain odd.

I am none of these things. I am just a female Catholic, with a degree of intelligence who is entirely frustrated by the lack of democracy within the church.

Nevertheless, I have a love of the spiritual support that I experience within the Catholic Church and from friends who are members of the clergy, and from others who are lay members of the Catholic Church and from friends in other churches and religions.

Mr McLoughlin stated in his letter that "women priests aren't going to happen". I am assuming that he is stating his opinion, rather than a fact. In such a conservative institution as the Catholic Church change inevitably comes slowly, but even in my lifetime significant changes have occurred. I remain optimistic that change will continue. My advice to Mr McLoughlin is never say never.

The time is long overdue for women to be priests in the Church and not just be relegated to playing a subservient role.

Moira Gray,

Rock Drive,