updated 9/25/2007 7:06:16 PM ET 2007-09-25T23:06:16

Episcopal leaders, pressured to roll back their support for gays to keep the world Anglican family from crumbling, affirmed Tuesday that they will "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop.

The bishops also pledged not to approve an official prayer for blessing same-gender couples and insisted a majority of bishops do not allow priests to bless the couples in their parishes.

The statement came in the final hour of an intense six-day meeting and at a crucial moment in the decades-long Anglican debate over how the Bible should be interpreted.

The Anglican fellowship has been splintering since 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Anglican leaders had set a Sept. 30 deadline for the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for same-gender couples.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, took the unusual step of attending the meeting for the first two days, pushing bishops to make concessions for the sake of unity. Anglican lay and clergy representatives from overseas also participated, chastising Episcopal leaders for the turmoil they've caused. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States.

It could takes weeks or months before Episcopal bishops will know whether they've done enough to satisfy Anglican leaders.

Anglicans across the theological spectrum will interpret the language of the statement differently. And Williams said he will take time to evaluate the document with a committee representing Anglican leaders and the Anglican Consultative Council, an international lay-clergy panel.

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