THE APRIL 7, 1952, issue of the New York Enquirer featured a front-page "Statement of Policy" from the paper's 25-year-old new owner, Generoso Pope Jr.

"In an age darkened by the menace of totalitarian tyranny and war," Pope wrote, "the New York Enquirer will fight for the rights of man - the rights of the individual, and will champion human decency and dignity, freedom and peace."

Two years later, these headlines, among others, were emblazoned across the front page:

PASSION PILLS FAN RAPE WAVE (accompanied by pictures of "Indian fanatics ripping the flesh off their chests to bloody ribbons with barbed wire whips");

And LOCK ME UP BEFORE I KILL ("No One Believed the Police Chief's Son . . . Until He Ripped Open a Girl With a Knife").

The casual reader might not have detected much difference between the Enquirer of the 1950s and its 1960s descendant, in which one could encounter "11-Year-Old Dies of Old Age (year-by-uear photos)" and "I Put My Baby in a Wastebasket and Poured Concrete Over Her." But there was a difference. A vital ingredient - namely sex - had been excised.

And there are some 1970s newsstand loiterers, not actual Enquirer readers, who fail to recognize that the Enquirer has changed yet again. Violence has gone the way of sex - i.e., out.

Although editors and reporters speak with pride of these changes, and resent widespread misperceptions of the Enquirer's present character, Pope seems to regard it as a point of his pride neither to brag about today's Enquirer nor to apologize for yesterday's.

The newspaper business has a rich tradition of diletante publishers who have given lavish parties, roamed the world and hobnobbed with royalty and elected officialdom. Generoso Pope Jr. does not belong to his tradition. He rarely entertains. He never hobnobs. He never roams. He hasn't been out of the country since his teens, or spent more than a day or two away from the office in anybody's memory.

On Saturdays, he relaxes by playing music on his office stereo, and generally leaves the door open so his employes can relax, too. The selections are usually warhorses of Italian opera of stirring semi-classical pieces on the order of "Victory at Sea."

Pope once announced a form of semi-retirement under which he would cease reviewing page proofs and be content with offering critiques of each week's issue after publication. That lasted a week, and on his return to duty the staff received a severe dressing down for the paper they had produced in his absence. They had expected no less.

As an administrator, Pope inspires an invigorating mixture of admiration and terror among his subordinates, who are ever mindful of the rapid personnel shifts that have characterized the Enquirer's history, and of the "PASSED - G.P." stamp affixed to every successful story proposal.

One ex-staffer recalls that his first informal instructions at the Enquirer - from a helpful peer - were, "Never say anything about the CIA, never say anything about the Mafia, and never knock Sophia Loren."

The feeling is widespread among Enquirer staffers that their boss is one of Sophia Loren's more avid admirers (presumably from afar, since Pope never travels and the Enquirer abounds with stories about Loren, and recently engaged a palm reader to analyze her palm. "She will live to be old," said the palm reader, "but I would never worry about her. She has the hand of a doer and she will always achieve."

The prohibition against references to the CIA apparently derives from Pope's brief career as a CIA agent, immediately prior to his purchase of the Enquirer in 1952. "I wanted to see what it was like," is his explanation for joining. "It was pretty bad," is this explanation for leaving. "I was in a section called psychological warfare. I would sit there and read the newspapers . . . and nobody would let me do anything."

A more obvious career option in those days was to join his brothers Anthony and Fortune in the family concrete business, or in the operation of Il Progresso, the Italian-language newspaper founded by their father. But Pope and his brothers did not see eye to eye on business matters. "I'm not going to get anywhere in this deal," he concluded. "It's two to one."

So with $5,000 of his own and $20,000 borrowed from friends, Pope purchased the Enquirer, a dying weekly whose main distinction lay in its status as New York's only Sunday afternoon paper. The Enquirer's circulation was about 17,000 at the time."I spent the next six years going around borrowing money," says Pope. "I became the world's expert check kiter."

Pope has periodically been accused of having "organized crime connections." The charge amuses him, and he attributes it mainly to the fact that he happened to be dining gambler Frank Costello on the night Costello was shot in 1957. "I knew some of the guys that were involved in New York, mainly through politics," he says, adding that only "legitimate money" ever went into the Enquirer. The 1950s were hard times for Pope and the Enquirer. After falling into debt to one of a series of Enquirer printers, Pope and right-hand man Dino Gallo had to smuggle two typewriters out of a basement printing plant one night, a feat accomplished with Gallo standing on Pope's shoulders and sliding the typewriters through a window onto the sidewalk.

The editorial character of the Enquirer, like its financial condition, showed signs of uncertainty in those years. The paper continued to employ a baroque sports columnist named Col. John R. Stingo, whose sprawling prose won the affection of the New Yorker's A. J. Liebling, among others. "High-paced visitors to Saratoga failed to see a card turn or a wheel spin, a doleful equinox," was a typical specimen of vintage Stingo. But elsewhere the Enquirer features a more plainspoken brand of English, as in, "He took out his victim's intestines, sawed off his head and hands, then wrapped them neatly in plastic bags."

By 1962, with what Pope calls the "gore era" well under way, circulation was nearing a million, and that's where it remained until the end of the decade. Big city newsstands, meanwhile, were closing by the hundreds, which led Pope to decide that a change was called for. Pope has never been averse to change. He concluded that supermarket sales were the key to the Enquirer's future, and when the major supermarket chains indicated their displeasure with the Enquirer as it was, Pope obligingly eliminated the gore in favor of the current mix of celebrity stories and "gee whiz."

In 1971, the Enquirer moved from sub-urban New York to Florida, where the paper - and its staff - have prospered. "I feel very stronly that if we're making money, they deserve a part of it," says Pope. He also believes in demanding high productivity from his high-salaried employes.

Until recently, reporters and editors who fell short of Pope's standards could anticipate being selected for prompt inclusion in one of the paper's notorious "Friday night massacres," in which whole chunks of staff were laid off. But that was before Pope's discovery of - and infatuation with - the IBM "30-day improvement plan." Now, insists Pope, no one is fired except for theft or gross insubordination. Instead, employes are given 30 days in which to shape up, and "much to our surprise it works . . . I have yet to find an editorial person who didn't make a turn-around on this program."

But Pope remains an acknowledged master of the art of making people worry about the future - which, at the Enquirer, means the immediate future. He is an inveterate worrier himself. Others may delight in the spectacular recent increases in Enquirer circulation. Pope agonizes over the paper's ability to retain its new readers when the TV commercials begin to slacken.

In those rare intervals when Pope does get away from the office, he retires to a splendid oceanfront estate shielded by a small tropical forest, and indulges in his two hobbies - landscape gardening and model railroading. Last fall, he personally oversaw the construction of a Christmas display in the Enquirer's front yard that featured a sprawling model railroad and a towering tree. And an Enquirer reporter spent two weeks, on direct orders from the boss, building a case for getting both tree and train into the Guinness Book of World Records. CAPTION: Picture 1, Ex-CIA agent shunned family concrete business, turned publisher instead. Pope picked up floundering New York newspaper for a paltry $20,000 and parlayed it into millions in sunny profits.; Picture 2, The National Enquirer Office building in Lantana Fla., photos by Bob Hannah for The Washington Post.