Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has joined the increasing number of religious leaders who oppose capital punishment.

In a statement issued here this week, Archbishop Bernardin, one of the Catholic Church's chief spokesmen on right-to-live issues, addressed legalized executions in that context.

He acknowledged that arguments in favor of capital punishment have "Been forcefully made by many people of evident good will, although others find them less than convincing.

"But the more pertinent question at this time in our history is what course of action best fosters that respect for life, all human life, in a society such as ours in which such respect is sadly lacking," he said.

"Many have expressed the view," he said, "that in this day of increasing violence and disregard for human life, a return to the use of capital punishment can only lead to further erosion of respect for life and to the increased brutalization of our society."

The church's commitment to "the sacredness of human life," he said, "has led to our strong efforts on behalf of the unborn, the old, the sick and victims of injustice, as well as efforts to enhance respect for human rights. While there are significant differences in these issues, all of them touch directly upon the value of human life, which our faith teaches us is never beyond redemption."

For this reason, he said, "I hope our leaders will seek methods of dealing with crime that are more consistent with the vision of respect for life and the gospel message of God's healing love."

In a separate action, the board of directors of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, meeting here last week, reaffirmend its stand against capital punishment.

Catholic Charities originally passed a policy statement on Respect for Human Life last October that asked that ". . . all forms of capital punishment