A top Episcopal Church panel on Thursday turned down demands from overseas Anglican leaders to stop consecrating openly gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions.
The 40-member Executive Council, headed by the presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, said such decisions could only be made at the U.S. church's triennial General Convention, to be held next in 2009.
The panel, concluding its four-day meeting in Parsippany, N.J., also declined a proposal by the Anglican primates to create a separate structure to oversee dissident conservative parishes and dioceses that reject Jefferts Schori's leadership.
In February, Anglican leaders, meeting in Tanzania, had asked the U.S. church to pledge to halt consecrating gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions by Sept. 30.
The 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, which for years has disagreed with the U.S. church's more liberal views on such issues as homosexuality.
The Executive Council said in a statement: "We question the authority of the primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion."
During a teleconference, Jefferts Schori suggested the "conversation" could continue at the U.S. bishops meeting in September in New Orleans.
But the Rev. Canon Kendall S. Harmon, a conservative from South Carolina, said: "It's a clear rejection of any sense of commitment to the Communion."