The Corcoran Gallery approved The Washington Times -- a daily newspaper that will make its debut here Monday--as a corporate sponsor this month without knowing that the paper is backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The action has infuriated the executive committee of the prestigious gallery's board of directors, because by paying the $6,000 sponsor's fee, The Times is entitled to hold its "inaugural" reception at the gallery Monday night.

At a regularly scheduled meeting at the Corcoran last Monday, the executive committee raised the possibility of canceling the reception, which is expected to be picketed by ex-members of the church. The committee, however, reached the conclusion that it had a contractual agreement with The Washington Times that could not be broken. The committee decided, however, to establish a more stringent system of reviewing corporate sponsors.

"I was upset because a lot of members called and said they were thinking of not renewing," said a member of the executive committee who requested anonymity. "They The Unification Church are using good people to buy respectability that they couldn't get otherwise. The Corcoran is not a public facility. I blew my top. You won't see me there. I don't think you'll find anyone on the executive committee there."

"Isn't The Washington Times good enough for them?" said Jim Gavin, who arranged for the newspaper to become a corporate sponsor of the gallery.

Gavin, a local Unification Church leader who is now in charge of public relations for The Washington Times, said he first approached the Corcoran about five weeks ago. Several staffers at the Corcoran, however, say they were contaced by Gavin in late February.

"The basic reason we went to the Corcoran was that we wanted to have the party there," said Gavin yesterday, "and they outlined what it entailed to become a corporate member."

As usual, the Corcoran's development office handled what appeared to be a routine request. Many Washington corporations donate money to the gallery and are allowed to have one party a year in the marble atrium.

After an exchange of letters, The Washington Times was approved as a corporate sponsor. It paid the $6,000-minimum donation and arranged for the reception, which is being catered by Ridgewell's and to which about 2,000 people have been invited.

Many of the board members apparently became aware of the The Washington Times' relationship to the Unification Church, whose members are commonly referred to as "Moonies," through a March 8 article in The Washington Post, according to Carolyn Campbell, a Corcoran spokeswoman.

"When we heard about it we all just sat around and wondered whether any of the people we were dealing with were members of the church," said Anne Camas, who handles special events for the gallery and initially dealt with Gavin.

David Lloyd Kreeger, board president of the Corcoran, said the discord was brought to his attention two weeks ago when some members complained. "I'm not going to pass merit on the Unification Church. But I am upset a controversy has developed out of this because the Corcoran is a cultural institution not to be drawn into political controversy, or controversy of any kind," said Kreeger.

"I suppose additional information on corporate sponsors would be useful in the future," Kreeger said.

Although invited, Kreeger said he won't be able to attend the gala party Monday. "I think I have another commitment," he said. "Yes, I do. I'm playing chamber music. The arrangements were made a month ago."