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Prelates and Pope Francis attend a morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican on Oct. 13, 2014.

GREGORIO BORGIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Conservative Catholic bishops distanced themselves Tuesday from a document showing an unprecedented opening toward gays and divorced people, saying it doesn't reflect their views and vowing to make changes to the final version.

The provisional document produced at the halfway point of a two-week meeting on family life said gays had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided gay couples with "precious" support.

It said the church must welcome divorced people and recognize the "positive" aspects of civil marriages and even Catholics who cohabit.

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Amid an outcry from conservatives, organizers of the synod insisted that the document was merely a working paper that would be amended.

Several known conservatives who participated in the synod immediately came out against the report. The head of the Polish bishops' conference, Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki, called it "unacceptable" and a deviation from church teaching.

Hard-line American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican's supreme court, complained that the Vatican was releasing "manipulated" information about the goings-on of the synod that didn't reflect the "consistent number of bishops" who opposed such a tone.

According to the Vatican summary of the debate, bishops suggested that the final version of the report highlight faithful, Catholic families to avoid "a near-exclusive focus on imperfect family situations."

On gays, they said "prudence" was required "so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation."

The bishops noted that the word "sin" barely appeared in the document at all and that the final document must better explain the "law of gradualness" – a theological concept that encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.

Bishops are concerned that an emphasis on graduality can lead to confusion about whether Catholics really must follow church law to the letter on hot-button issues like contraception.

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Finally, the summary noted that some bishops firmly believe there is no room for change on the divisive issue of whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without getting an annulment can receive Communion.

Church teaching holds that without an annulment, these Catholics are living in sin and thus are ineligible to receive the sacraments.

Pope Francis has called for a more merciful approach and some favour a case-by-case approach, in which the couple undertakes a path of penance and could ultimately receive the sacraments. But conservatives have insisted there is no getting around Jesus' words that marriage is indissoluble.

In the summary released Tuesday, the Vatican reported that "it was said that it is difficult to accept exceptions unless in reality they become a common rule."

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