Roman Catholic church leaders are beginning to express unprecedented tolerance towards homosexuality, including the head of the archdiocese of St. John's.

In an interview with CBC's On the Go Tuesday, Archbishop Martin Currie said the church must uphold its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But he added, "Hopefully we can find some accommodation where (same-sex) unions are accepted and respected and they can have a part in the church life."

Currie's comment follows a remarkable softening of tone from the church about homosexuality and divorce.

'Hopefully we can find some accommodation where (same-sex) unions are accepted and respected and they can have a part in the church life.' - Archbishop Martin Currie

A document released Monday by some 200 bishops and lay officials gathered for a two-week meeting, or synod, at the Vatican in Rome, expressed new openness to gay unions.

It appears to follow the approach of Pope Francis, who famously replied "Who am I to judge?" when asked last year if gays and lesbians can be good Christians.

Currie acknowledged that the pope's openness on the issue "gives us the opportunity to discuss these matters on a much deeper level."

The document states that homosexuals have "gifts and qualities to offer the church," but also describes homosexuality as "morally problematic."

Currie said the church is trying to find a language that promotes tolerance and acceptance, and appears ready for further dialogue.

"The question of homosexuality leads to serious reflection ... on how these people can be brought into the church," he said.

Currie said the challenge is finding a way to accept and value a person's sexual orientation "without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony."

Holiness and compassion

He added that the synod will likely kickstart some serious reflection throughout the Catholic world, including in regions where conservative Catholic groups have a powerful voice.

When asked if there may one day be openly gay men accepted into the priesthood, Currie replied: "To be homosexual is no barrier to holiness and compassion. We have a number of men who are very good and excellent priests who have same-sex orientation and are doing a great job. And there will probably be more in the future."

Vatican officials have stressed the document is not a change in church doctrine, but a starting point for discussion.