WASHINGTON,March 9 (RNS)--The Episcopal Church will not face discipline from the worldwide Anglican Communion for its liberal-leaning stance onhomosexuality, putting to rest--at least for now--an issue that haspitted the U.S. church against more conservative members of the globalchurch.

Wrapping up their annual meeting at a North Carolina conferencecenter on Thursday, the presiding bishops, or primates, of the38 autonomous churches in the Anglican Communion deferred a proposalwhich would have sanctioned the Episcopal Church.

The 70-million-member Anglican Communion, which has its roots in theChurch of England, officially condemns homosexuality. But the EpiscopalChurch unofficially allows local dioceses to ordain practicinghomosexuals and bless same-sex unions.

Conservative leaders in the Bahamas and Argentina wanted to give theprimates the authority to reprimand the U.S. church and evenexcommunicate it if its policies did not change. That proposal will nowbe considered by an Anglican theological panel.

In a pastoral letter issued at the end of the closed meeting, theprimates said they had engaged in honest discussion from both sides.

"We also resolved ... to show responsibility toward each other, andto seek to avoid actions that might damage the credibility of ourmission in the world," the primates said.

The leader of the U.S. church, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, hadthe support of the leader of the communion, Archbishop of CanterburyGeorge Carey, in derailing the controversial proposal. But Griswold saidhe has a greater sense of how the actions of the U.S. church affectother members of the communion.

"With the phenomenon of globalization a reality, all that we do andsay in our own country impinges directly and immediately on our globalneighbors," Griswold said in a prepared statement.

Even though the primates effectively refused to deal with theproposal, the issue will likely continue to nag leaders of the church,who would prefer to focus more attention on issues such as the AfricanAIDS crisis, global debt and anti-poverty efforts.

When the primates meet again next year, the theological commissionmay issue a report on the proposal, as well as reflect on a paper aboutauthority within the communion and how each church should understand it.

In their statement, the primates signaled just how delicate thisissue has become. "This is a crucial and testing time for ourcommunion, but also a time of vitality, generosity and growth," theysaid.

Still, there was a noticeable difference between this statement andthe one issued when the primates met last year in Portugal. Last year,the primates warned the U.S. church that its "clear and publicrepudiation" of teachings on homosexuality had "come to threaten theunity of the communion in a profound way."

This year, the primates briefly noted the "widespreadfragmentation" within the communion and around the world.

Despite the contentious issues, the longest-serving primate at themeeting said the meeting was marked by "refreshing honesty andcandor."

"Our collegiality, friendship and understanding of each other asprimates has never been greater," said Archbishop Robin Eames ofIreland.