The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has named a special committee, headed by Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, to look into charges of financial mishandling by Catholic Relief Services.

The controversy came to light last month in documents provided by former employes of the overseas relief agency, charging that money earmarked for African famine relief had been used for overhead and other unrelated expenditures.

Former CRS workers also charged that aid money was sometimes loaned to other CRS programs instead of being used for the purpose for which it was given. The former staff members also alleged that only $9 million of the $50 million collected for African famine relief had been spent for that purpose.

CRS officials strongly denied the charges and NCCB head Bishop James Malone emphasized that the establishment of the fact-finding committee "implies no prejudgment of any kind concerning CRS operations."

Terry Waite, a special envoy for Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, revealed this week that he had played a role in the release of the Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian missionary held captive by Shi'ite Muslim extremists in Lebanon for 16 months.

Waite said he had negotiated for Weir's release for about a year through an intermediary, whom he refused to identify.

The British churchman made the disclosure during a press conference in which he also appealed to the captors of 11 hostages still held in Lebanon: six Americans, four Frenchmen and a Briton.

He appealed to the captors "to let me meet with them face-to-face and hear clearly their requests for myself. The churches, because of their apolitical and humanitarian stance, can frequently address situations in ways governments cannot."

Earlier this year, Waite secured Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's backing for the release of four British citizens, and in 1981, he was instrumental in negotiating the release from Iran of three Anglican missionaries.

The Rev. Richard Rodes, a United Church of Christ minister from Columbia, Md., has set out for the Soviet Union with 42 segments of the "Peace Ribbon" that circled the nation's capital last month.

The ribbon consisted of more than 25,000 panels of hand-crafted needlework, each depicting the theme, "What I would most hate to lose in a nuclear war."

Rodes and his family are touring Eastern Europe with a privately sponsored peace group. He plans to give segments of the ribbon to churches and individuals in the Soviet Union in memory of Samantha Smith, the Maine youngster who undertook her own peace mission to the Soviet Union two years ago at the invitation of President Yuri Andropov. She was killed in a plane crash last month.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued guidelines on what women deacons in the Church of England may wear when their new status is approved by Parliament, as is required for the state church.

The archbishops -- Dr. Robert Runcie of Canterbury and Dr. John Habgood of York -- concede that there are "very strong feelings amongst deaconesses both for and against the use of clerical collars." For this reason, they advise, "their use should be a matter for personal discretion."

For the present, the suggested style for liturgical wear is the blue cassock, which most deaconesses already own. Suitable alternatives are the white cassock alb (shaped like a cassock but made of white material and reaching from the neck to the ankles) or a black cassock. The use of surplices (a loose white liturgical garment with wide sleeves) or cottas (a shortened form of surplice) will depend on local practice.

The women deacons "should be discouraged" from wearing pectoral crosses in religious services, the guidelines state, presumably because such decorations are to be reserved for bishops. But women "who already possess a pectoral cross may continue to wear one" on nonliturgical occasions.

Eventually, the guidelines suggest, it is expected that women deacons will wear a discreet lapel cross as their mark of identification.