Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung, in a personal letter to Pope John Paul II, has assailed the church's stand against birth control, married priests and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The letter, which appeared in Italy's largest daily newspaper earlier this week, was written a year ago, well before the Vatican's recent ruling that Kung may no longer teach as a Catholic Theologian.

In a brief interview printed along with the text of the letter in Milan's Corriere Della Sera, Kung said he wrote the pope "to implore the pontiff to avoid a too-hard position" on priestly celibacy in a Vatican document that was ultimately published April 9, 1979.

The Vatican never answered the letter, Jung said in the interview. The Vatican document he had hoped to soften reaffirmed the church's traditional ban on a married priesthood.

In his letter Kung argued that the Bible does not say priests should not marry and noted that the apostles themselves were married.

"How many more priests do we have to lose before we recognize the legitimacy of marriage (for clergy), a field in which other churches have had good experiences?" Kung asked the pope. "Tens of thousands of parishes are already vacant and their number is destined to grow day by day."

Kung said in the letter that he wanted to "relay in all frankness, the desire of many Catholics, clergy and lay, men and women: recall of the priesthood those who were forced to abandon (their priestly vocation) only because of the celibacy law, [and] eliminate this obstacle to the reunification of the Christian Churches."

The order last Dec. 15 by the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suspending Kung's authorization to teach as a Catholic theologian did not cite his well-known opposition to the church's stance on celibacy.

Rather, he was disciplined for writings questioning traditional views on papal infallibility and for his views on Christs divinity and humaness.

For several months, Kung fought the Vatican action and the subsequent demands of German bishops that he be removed from the Catholic theology faculty of the German University of Tuebingen.

Last week, however, he accepted a compromise solution to the complex church-state dilemma. He will continue to teach theology at the university and to direct the ecumenical institute, which he founded there, but he will be separated from the Catholic faculty at the school.

In announcing the compromise, Kung pledged to continue his dialogue with the Vatican over ideological differences.

In his letter to the pope, Kung accused the church of hypocrisy in its opposition to birth control and to women priests.

"Can we intervene in a believable way, in Latin America and in the Third World, against poverty, unemployment, diseases -- all problems that are linked to the high increase in births -- if we do not engage strongly in favor of a reasonable and human planning of births," which contraception makes possible to the responsible conscience of the couple?" the letter asked.

"Can we in modern society intervene in a credible way in favor of women's rights if we keep considering the woman a subject with minor rights and reject ordination on the basis of little convincing theological arguments?

"What good arises from all the church's interventions in favor of human rights in the world if in the church itself these rights are not fully respected?" he wrote.

In recent years, Kung, who was one f the moving forces behind many of the church reforms that came out of the Second Vatican Council, has become a gadfly of the church hierarchy as well as one of the church's most widely read theologians.

His high-level disciplining last December rocked both Catholic and Protestant Christianity, since he has a large following across church lines.

The Vatican's move against him prompted worldwide cries of protest from his supporters and acclaim from those who objected to his teachings.