VATICAN CITY (AP) — Gay rights groups are hailing what they call a "seismic shift" by the Catholic Church toward gays after bishops said homosexuals have gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provide homosexuals with "precious" support.

In a preliminary report half-way through a Vatican meeting on family life, the bishops also said the church must recognize the "positive" aspects of civil unions and even Catholics who cohabitate, with the aim of bringing them to a lifelong commitment in a church wedding.

The report summarized the closed-door debate that Pope Francis initiated to discuss issues such as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control. No decisions were announced, but the tone of the report was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, and it will guide discussions until a final document is issued Saturday.

Conservative groups denounced the report as heresy and a "betrayal" that will only confuse Catholics.