An official of the World Council of Churches has sharply criticized a Vatican document on Jewish-Christian understanding, issued last June, as "a serious step backward in Jewish-Christian relations."

In a five-page letter to his Vatican counterpart, the Rev. Allan R. Brockway, WCC Jewish-Christian Relations secretary, characterized as "incredible," "condescending" and "little short of shocking" the Catholic guidelines on the approved way to teach Catholics about Jews and Judaism.

Much of his line-by-line criticism of the Catholic statement centers on theological understandings of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity. He faults the Vatican document for not being more aggressive in its condemnation of anti-Semitism and its "failure to agonize" over the meaning for Christians of the Holocaust with its destruction of more than six million Jews.

In his letter to Msgr. Jorge Mejia, Christian unity secretary for the Vatican, Brockway also scored the Vatican statement for underestimating the significance to the Jewish people of the state of Israel.

Brockway made copies of his fiery letter available to Jewish sources, which were almost universally critical of the guidelines when they were issued last June.

The New York Roman Catholic Archdiocese has announced plans to turn an unused Manhattan convent into a shelter for AIDS victims and to underwrite research on the usually fatal disease.

The plan also calls for establishment of a special clinic at St. Clare's hospital in Manhattan and a home-care program for victims of the disease, who are predominantly male homosexuals.

The shelter will be staffed by Mother Teresa's Missionary Sisters, who volunteered for the task, and will be operated in cooperation with the city.

New York Cardinal John O'Connor has been criticized in the past by the gay community for his defiance of an executive order issued by Mayor Edward Koch that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals. The order, as it applies to religious institutions, was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeals.

Twenty of the 57 members of Congress who identify themselves as Presbyterians have signed a letter complaining of what they regard as the liberal trends in the denomination's General Assembly last June.

The letter to the chief executive of the 3.1 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the Rev. James E. Andrews, said the church's stands on human rights, U.S.-Soviet relations, nuclear and defense issues and central America are "based on misconceptions which have too often been accepted as truth."

The letter urged a change of direction by adopting the views of "the organization known as Presbyterians for Democracy and Religious Freedom."

The latter group, according to the press release to the media which accompanied the legislators' letter, is a branch of the conservative Washington lobby, the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Twelve of the major Jewish organizations in this country have issued a statement denouncing Rabbi Meir Kahane, saying that "his words and actions are alien to Judaism."

The statement was issued just prior to the current visit of Kahane, a member of the Israeli parliament, to this country and his subsequent resignation as head of the Jewish Defense League.

Representatives of the American Jewish groups pointed out that Israeli President Chaim Herzog "pointedly refused to meet with Kahane" when he met with other Israeli political leaders. They also noted that on July 31, the Knesset unanimously passed a bill banning from parliamentary elections any party that "incites people to racism or negates Israel's democratic character."

Kahane has called for the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel.