NEW YORK, Feb. 13(AP)--In a long-awaited report, an Episcopal Church commission declined to take a position on same-sex unions. If church leaders follow the report's recommendations, they would leave in place an unofficial policy that lets individual dioceses decide whether to bless gay marriages.

The report, to be released Monday, does not back either a liberal or conservative position on gay marriage, which has become increasingly common in the Episcopal Church. "We are not ready, theologically or scientifically, to say a defining word about the life of homosexuals in the church," said the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, whose recommendations will be discussed at the church's national convention in July. "In the context of reverence--and humility--it seems best not to take absolutist positions on a national level."

Instead, the commission suggested that the church leadership "allow dioceses to find their own way in the matter"--a continuation of an unofficial church policy that has angered conservatives.

The report consists of essays on such subjects as scripture, tradition, decision-making, and blessings. A paper by the Rev. I. William Countryman, a New Testament scholar, concludes that the Bible "is not definitive enough to demand a negative judgment on the present subject."

Officially, the Episcopal Church upholds the Christian tradition limiting intimacy to heterosexual marriage. A 1998 meeting of the world's Anglican and Episcopal bishops gave 88 percent approval to a declaration that homosexual behavior is "incompatible with Scripture."

But conservatives object to more liberal attitudes in this country. Conservative-liberal tensions heightened last month when, at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore, two conservative American priests were consecrated as bishops to work in the United States without Episcopal Church authorization.

The United Methodist Church will debate the same-sex marriage issue in May. Last week, the church decided not to bring charges against 68 ministers who blessed a lesbian wedding to protest their church's ban on gay marriages.

In June, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will likely decide whether to enact a prohibition on gay marriage. And Reform Judaism faces a showdown on same sex marriage in March.

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