Catholic bishops have released a document calling for the Church to take a more progressive stance on family issues – including homosexuality and unmarried couples – after two weeks of closed-door meetings in the Vatican.
In a marked change of tone from the Church, the Synod document said homosexuals had "gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community".
It suggested the Church needed to take a "more merciful" approach towards unmarried couples, the divorced, and those who use contraception.
Groups representing gay Christians have described the document as a "breakthrough".
Church historian and Catholic commentator Paul Collins said the document was significant but would not immediately change the Church's teachings or practices.
"What it does is it gets this kind of issue on the agenda and I think that's the important thing here," Mr Collins said.
"I think what is starting to happen is a more positive, more realistic agenda is starting to emerge, which belongs to the contemporary world and doesn't belong to the Church in the 19th century, as has been the case right up until now."
Pope's focus on family issues 'a good move'
Mr Collins said Pope Francis' move to set family as the topic for discussion at the Synod was "shrewd".
"[The Pope has] done it for the simple reason that he wants to get a topic that everybody's interested in, and not a topic that just interests bishops like Church structures or things like that," he told the AM program.
"The debate has been pretty sharp in Rome. Early on, the more conservative bishops got their position out.
"They wanted to draw the line on the Church's teaching on family and sexuality and gender right where it is now – they didn't want any change whatsoever.
"But I think that the more progressive bishops, particularly some of the German bishops, have been able to push through an agenda that is much more geared towards the needs of contemporary families.
"They've been able to get the message through that, nowadays, the vast majority of Catholics – certainly in the developed world – practice contraception.
"They've simply ignored the Church's teaching, but still remain Catholic in good standing, still go to mass and communion.
"In a country like Australia, most divorced remarried Catholics would be going to communion with the tacit and sometimes even positive support of their parish priests and bishops."
Mr Collins said while no concrete decisions would be made until the Synod reconvened in October next year, the Pope had realised the real issues for Catholics.
"Unlike his two predecessors, he has had vast pastoral experience particularly in the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina," Mr Collins said.
"He understands what the real issues are, at least as they reveal themselves in Argentina, but he's also been smart enough to pick up on what is going on in the developing world as well."
Australia was represented at the Synod by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart.