Pope Francis
Pope Francis leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Oct. 14, 2015. Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

A meeting of Catholic leaders at the Vatican Saturday saw the church take a small step toward a more liberal approach with regard to gay and divorced Catholics, who have largely been ignored by the faith’s historically conservative approach. While the meeting, also known as the Catholic synod, did not openly condone acceptance of divorced or gay Catholics, who are currently banned from receiving communion, it left room for Pope Francis to interpret the shift in thinking and make his own decision on whether to make the changes to canon law.

For the first time, the meeting of Catholic leadership recognized the “dignity” of homosexuals, while also saying there is no similarity between same-sex unions and “God’s design on matrimony and family,” according to a Washington Post report Saturday, which cited parts of the church’s report, widely recognized as a foundation of current thinking within the Vatican.

“What the pope has to do now is take all of this in and decide how we use it,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. “He may decide to use bits and pieces in different ways.”

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The synod, also known as the Synod of Bishops, is an advisory body that meets every three to four years in order to assist the “Roman pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals, and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the church in the world,” according to Catholic law.

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, who has brought with him a far more delicate approach to taboo topics with which the Vatican has tradionally struggled, and shown himself to be far more merciful than his predecessors, the Catholic Church has regained popularity after years of deeply damaging scandals.