Activists and human rights groups have lashed out at the Catholic Church's failure to open its doors to gay people, but praised Pope Francis for getting bishops to confront "taboos."

The spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics had called for the Church to take a more accepting approach to gays, unmarried mothers and remarried divorcees, but on Saturday, bishops failed to approve the section on ministering to gay people, originally titled "welcoming homosexuals".

Gay activists were disappointed after hopes the Pontiff would bring groundbreaking change at a conference of bishops.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in the draft document. 

The revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families have to confront.

"Once more, members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church have erred on the side of hypocrisy and fear," Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, from the prominent US gay group Human Rights Campaign, told the AFP news agency.

But others saw pluses at the two-week assembly, known as a synod.

"Even if the text wasn't approved, and that is a shame, it will have effects. The debate will continue," Elisabeth Saint-Guily, the co-president of a Christian gay group in France said.

New challenges

Speaking at the ceremonial closing of the synod on Sunday, Pope Francis said the Church should not be afraid of change and new challenges.

"God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways," the pope said.

After an initial draft of the synod's final document was released on Monday, conservative bishops had vowed to row back on the upbeat tone, saying it would create confusion among the faithful and threatened to undermine the traditional family.

The fallout showed a deeply divided Church on some of the most pressing issues facing Catholic families, and caused at least one head to roll.

Outspoken conservative US cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, currently head of the Vatican's top canon law court, told Buzzfeed that he was being removed from his job to be made patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an honorary post.

Source: Agencies