LONDON -- Leaders of the Church of England this week rejected a move to oust homosexual priests, calling instead for them to repent and to be treated with compassion.

By a 388-to-19 vote, the church's policy-making General Synod of bishops, clergy and laity defeated a motion that would have declared homosexuality, adultery and fornication "sinful in all circumstances."

The vote was in favor of a motion saying that homosexuality, adultery and fornication fell short of the Christian ideal of confining sexual intercourse to marriage.

The successful motion, introduced by Bishop Michael Baughen of Chester, said adultery and fornication "are sins against this ideal and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion."

The motion said intimate homosexual acts "also fall short of this ideal and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion." However, the motion did not specifically label homosexuality a sin.

About 400 Anglican clergymen belong to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

The debate was initiated by the Rev. Tony Higton, who introduced a motion calling for the state church to "reaffirm the biblical standard" and ban homosexuals from the priesthood. He said later he voted for the alternative motion, but regretted that its language was not stronger.

The debate, held under the glare of television lights, drew a larger public attendance than recent controversies over ordaining women to the priesthood, which the church still rejects.

Higton founded a group called Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation and said before the debate it was "appalling" that homosexual literature is sold in some churches.

A debate on AIDS at Tuesday's opening of the synod's regular three-day winter session ended with an overwhelming acceptance for a church report that rejected the idea that AIDS, which strikes hardest in the homosexual community, is a form of divine punishment.