The nation's Roman Catholic bishops have delayed action on a pastoral letter concerning women after widespread criticism of it and demands that it be dropped.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops had been scheduled to vote in November on a final draft of the policy-setting pastoral letter on women's concerns, but the conference's administrative committee postponed the vote yesterday after the Vatican requested that they consult their fellow bishops in other nations on the matter.
The pastoral letter has sharply divided Catholics who want more change in church practices regarding women and those who uphold traditional restrictions. Representatives of both positions have demanded that the whole project be dropped.
In recent weeks the Vatican has been urging the international consultation, which probably will take place in Rome sometime next year, Bishop Joseph L. Imesch of Joliet, Ill., said yesterday. Imesch heads the committee of six bishops that has been working on the letter since November 1983.
Pastoral letters are not strictly binding on Catholics but serve as the framework for church policy, providing guidelines for educational efforts, preaching and for the training of seminarians.
There have been two drafts of the pastoral letter on women and the committee had been receiving further amendments from the bishops. Both drafts condemn the "sin of sexism," expressed in violence against women, sexual exploitation and economic discrimination, and both said sexist attitudes had colored the church's teachings.
The first draft, however, was considered by many bishops and the Vatican to be too liberal. The second draft, issued last April, toned down the criticism of the church and reaffirmed in detail the church's official prohibitions of contraception and the ordination of women.
It also took a position closer to that of Pope John II, who has insisted that these are questions on which debate has been closed.