A distinguished churchman with a strong interest in science has been named by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as the Archbishop of York, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Church.

He is John Habgood, 56, who for the past 10 years has been bishop of Durham. Habgood studied science at Cambridge University and worked as a pharmacologist for five years before studying for the ministry in 1955.

Regarded as a leading intellectual in the church, Habgood has written extensively both on theology and the relationship of science and religion. He is considered a moderate in church issues. He supports ordination of women into the priesthood but has urged moving slowly on the matter because it is a source of deep controversy in the church.

On the nuclear issue, Habgood said he believes, "Britain should become less dependent on nuclear weapons." He added that "the present NATO policy--in which weapons would be used fairly early in the event of an outbreak of hostilities--frightens me." However, he does not support unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The Church of the Brethren's Annual Conference, meeting in Baltimore last week, endorsed the providing of sanctuary to undocumented aliens as "an appropriate Christian response to injustice being suffered by Latin American and Haitian political refugees."

The church advised its congregations in dealing with such problems "to employ all lawful means to protect refugees" by providing legal assistance for individuals and by lobbying Congress and the State Deparment to grant refugee status to those fleeing political oppression.

But when all lawful means fail and a life is at stake, churches were advised "to prayerfully consider sanctuary as a faith response to the current situation in Central America."

The rebel Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre has stepped down as head of his traditionalist Pius X Society, but he marked his retirement by ordaining 20 new priests to the movement that recognizes only the outlawed Tridentine mass.

Lefebvre, 77, who has continued his movement despite suspension by Pope Paul VI, turned over administrative responsibilities of the society to a West German follower, the Rev. Franz Schmidberger. But in retirement ceremonies in the Econe, Switzerland, seminary he founded, Lefebvre said he would continue to ordain priests in his rebel movement since "I am the only bishop belonging openly to the fraternity."

Lefebvre has refused to recognize the authority of the Second Vatican Council. Priests in his movement continue to celebrate mass in Latin, using the rite authorized by the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

The Rabbinical Council of America, the nation's largest body of Orthodox rabbis, has designated sociologist Dr. Chaim I. Waxman, an expert on Jewish identity, as consultant to its committee exploring whether Orthodox rabbis can continue functioning in peer groups with Reform Jewish leaders.

The study resulted from a decision by the Reform rabbinate earlier this year to revise Jewish traditional law that recognizes as a Jew a child born of a Jewish mother, in the case of mixed marriages. Reform Jews have now extended that tradition to include the child of a Jewish father as well.

The Rabbinical Council denounced the action as flouting Jewish law and encouraging intermarriage and has threatened to pull out of pan-Jewish organizations such as the Synagogue Council of America.

A conservative faction within the United Church of Christ has called for formation of an opposition group within the 1.75-million-member denomination to combat the church's liberal stance on homosexuality.

A position paper adopted by the UCC General Synod last month stated that "a person's sexual orientation is not a moral issue, but that sexual behavior does have moral significance." The statement added that "sexual orientation should not be grounds for denying the request for ordination" to the ministry of the church.

Barbara Weller, president of the United Church People for Biblical Witness, said, "We are not willing to have the faith of the historic church stolen away from us and have vowed to contend for this faith for the sake of the UCC."

Archbishop James A. Hickey has established the 131st Roman Catholic parish in the Washington archdiocese--this one in Rossmoor Leisure World. He has assigned Msgr. William F. Farrell as the first pastor of Our Lady of Grace parish.

Franciscan Friars will assume leadership of the 1,200-family St. Camillus parish in Silver Spring, beginning in September. It will be the first assignment of the brown-robed sandal-clad followers of St. Francis of Assisi in this area in modern times. The order also has plans to build a residence in the parish for Franciscan students enrolled in programs at the Washington Theological Union.

Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms this week kicked off a nationwide campaign to register conservative voters.

Two activist Jesuit priests, the Revs. Rob Currie and Joe Peschel, have been removed from their poor rural parish in Griffinsville, W. Va., by Bishop Joseph Hodges. The pair charged that their dismissal resulted from their criticism of Hodges' planned new $3.2 million pastoral center in Charleston. They contended the money should have been spent for the poor instead.