Roman Catholic bishops have softened Vatican doctrine toward divorcees but strongly rejected gay marriage at the end of one of the most divisive synods of recent times.

By a single vote, the synod agreed to allow divorcees to take communion, from which they were previously banned, after consideration on a "case-by-case" basis.

Catholic leaders including 270 bishops gathered in Rome had sat through more than 90 hours of debate and over 400 speeches over the last three weeks as they considered how to update guidelines for providing pastoral care to Catholic families.