Archbishop Rembert Weakland told a conservative think tank here this week that the United States Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on economics, currently undergoing its third revision, may influence an expected Vatican declaration on the topic.

The Milwaukee archbishop, the chief architect of the U.S. bishops' pastoral, said a papal economic document is expected in 1991 to mark the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on work and workers. That document provided the foundation for contemporary Catholic social teaching emphasizing the dignity and rights of workers and of the poor.

Weakland predicted that the centennial would "undoubtedly" be the occasion for an updated encyclical by Pope John Paul II. "And I'm hoping that the construction that we're doing now will have an influence on the character of that letter because I can't say that we in the United States have ever brought our tradition" to such a papal document before, he said.

"This is the one chance that we have now in a very public way of influencing what the 1991 letter for the universal church might look like," he told a workshop of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group.

As chairman of the drafting committee, Weakland has had several consultations with Vatican officials to keep them abreast of the contents and development of the U.S. bishops' pastoral.

The PTL television operation of evangelist Jim Bakker has laid off 400 of its 2,500 employes because of financial problems, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported.

The fluctuating financial picture of the 11-year-old ministry has been hit recently by two lawsuits over its default on agreements to buy land.

The PTL organization, the holdings of which include a satellite broadcasting network and a theme park, also has halted production of some of its television programs.

PTL has spent close to $9 million in the past two years for land to expand its 2,300-acre Heritage USA complex south of Charlotte, which includes a Christian theme park, retreat center and vacation site. The pending lawsuits allege that PTL had failed to live up to agreements to buy two parcels of land to add to the complex.

The World Jewish Congress this week announced the launching of a global campaign to persuade the Vatican to give formal diplomatic recognition to Israel.

WJC President Edgar M. Bronfman cabled Jewish leaders in 70 countries urging them to give increased attention to the question, which has long rankled Jewish leaders.

Bronfman praised "improving relations with the Catholic Church" and called for a continuing "fruitful dialogue . . . to remedy those misunderstandings which may have hindered" Catholic-Jewish understanding, one of which is the Israel recognition question.

He called on Jewish leaders everywhere who take part in such dialogue to raise diplomatic recognition of Israel as "the very first item on the agenda at each and every such meeting."

Four private schools run by fundamentalist Christian groups in England have been threatened with closure by government school inspectors for putting too much emphasis on religion and slighting such secular subjects as math, English, science and social studies.

A fifth school has already been closed.

The schools are among about 30 such ventures started here in the last decade that use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum developed in the United States.

The ACE curriculum, which is the backbone of the Christian school movement in the United States, provides a series of workbooks for pupils to work through individually.

The workbooks have a heavy Biblical orientation for all subjects, both religious and secular.

The schools also have stirred controversy in Britain because of the use of corporal punishment for erring children.

Bishop James K. Mathews, 72, who retired in 1980 as United Methodist Bishop of the District, will be acting bishop of the United Methodist Church of Zimbabwe for seven months while Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa is on a study sabbatical in this country.

Muzorewa took a leave from his clerical duties once before, in 1979, to serve as prime minister of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).

He severed all his political ties earlier this year after a resounding defeat of his political party, the United African National Council.