Roman Catholic bishops yesterday postponed indefinitely a vote on a controversial position paper on women's issues, prompting the document's critics to say that the paper has been killed.

The position paper, called a pastoral letter, has been criticized by liberal and conservative church factions ever since a first draft was circulated in 1987. Conservatives said that portions on the family were too progressive, while liberals rejected the idea that a church that forbids the ordination of women should write about sexism.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement yesterday that board members decided not to vote on the women's pastoral letter after feedback from Pope John Paul II, fellow bishops and various organizations.

The statement said the conference's administrative board "sees the need for more time, and more consultation . . . before the project reaches a conclusion."

The bishops had planned to vote on the position paper, entitled "One in Christ Jesus -- a Pastoral Response to the Concerns of Women for Church and Society," at their annual meeting here in November.

A pastoral is the bishops' official guidance to American Catholics on how they should think about problems facing their church and their country. Previous papers have looked at the U.S. economy and at nuclear arms.

Organizations of nuns and other church women criticized the document, seven bishops urged it be dropped, and several advisers on the first draft quit.

Ruth Fitzpatrick, national coordinator of the Women's Ordination Conference, said yesterday that the postponed vote means "they're sinking it."

Mary Hunt, co-director of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, agreed. The board's decision was "a face-saving effort to cover the overwhelming negative response of women" to the pastoral letter, she said.