The Vatican has called U.S. bishops to Rome for a meeting this month on a proposed pastoral letter about the role of women in the church, an issue that has caused sharp divisions among American Catholics.

More than eight years in the making, the letter remains in the draft stage. Some American Catholics want more change in church policy on women, while others support traditional restrictions.A second draft, released a year ago, calls sexism a sin. It defends the church's ban on women priests, a restriction often reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II, but calls for a greater leadership role for women in the church.

The bishops had planned to vote on the letter last November. The vote was postponed after the Vatican requested they consult with bishops of other nations first.

The meeting will take place May 28-29, officials said this week.

Bishops from about a dozen countries will meet with their U.S. counterparts, along with top Vatican officials. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said he did not believe John Paul would attend.

Returning with the pope from Portugal earlier this week, the Vatican secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Sodano, told reporters it was important U.S. bishops were "in tune" with papal thinking and that of their fellow churchmen.