In an ongoing rift over homosexuality, the Episcopal Church and its Canadian counterpart were asked Thursday to "voluntarily withdraw" from a global panel that helps set policy for the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The admonition from the primates, or senior bishops, of the 38 national branches of the communion was a nuanced nod to conservative complaints that the North American churches were pushing the Anglican family toward permanent schism.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, however, the primates have no direct power to discipline the autonomous national churches, leaving the future in the hands of an American church that has shown an independent — conservatives might say rebellious — streak.

The primates gave both North American churches three months to explain their support of same-sex unions in both countries, and the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The primates urged a moratorium on both policies.

"There remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion," the primates said in a five-page statement at the end of a four-day summit in Northern Ireland.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, whose spiritual leader is the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Thirty-five of the 38 primates attended the summit; three from Burundi, Hong Kong and North India did not attend.

The carefully worded statement imposed what little penalty was possible on the U.S. and Canadian churches and signaled that the global body may have run out of patience with the North American rebellion.

Both churches were asked to withdraw their members from ...

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