The government of South Africa has denied visitors' visas to nine American church leaders, accusing them of links to the banned African National Congress, which is seeking the ouster of the white dominated regime.

Responding in writing to an Associated Press question as to the reason for the visa denial, Home Affairs Minister Stoffel Botha said, "All nine clerics are attached to the National Council of Churches . . . an organization which has close links with terrorist organizations -- among others with the ANC."

The nine-person delegation, which was to have been headed by the NCC president, Bishop Philip Cousin, was to have made the visit Jan. 6 to 13. An NCC spokesman said that repeated inquiries to South African consular offices in New York, both before and after the scheduled departure date, brought only the advice to "keep asking."

The church agency learned of the refusal of visas from an inquiring reporter, only after the action was announced in South Africa.

Invitations for the trip had been issued by the Rev. Beyers Naude, head of the South African Council of Churches, who also was the host to a delegation of U.S. members of Congress earlier this month.

New guidelines on remarriage of divorced persons, issued by Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia, require that a full year elapse after a final divorce decree before such persons may be remarried by a priest of the diocese.

Pointing out in a letter to diocesan clergy that there may be some exceptions, Lee said the pastoral experience has shown that "time is necessary for healing, for learning and for forgiveness."

Divorced persons seeking to remarry in the church must also complete, with their priest, a new form of petition for remarriage. They must indicate whether they have engaged in a program of premarital counseling acceptable to the priest, whether adequate concern has been shown for previous spouses and children, and whether both have signed a Declaration of Intention to enter into a Christian marriage.

Lee said that the guidelines are intended to provide "a minimum diocesan standard" in remarriage cases, but that the parish priest "is in the best position to make the subjective judgments regarding the wisdom of the proposed marriage."

The 1,800-member union of lay employes of the Vatican has joined an international labor organization, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unionists, in the hope of gaining increased bargaining power.

A confederation newspaper said the Vatican employes took the action because of delays by Vatican administrators in responding to their demands.

Twelve California Roman Catholic leaders, headed by Archbishop Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, have called for the abolition of the death penalty, which California reinstated in 1977.

The move by the churchmen could be a political bonus for California Chief Justice Rose Bird, who faces a confirmation election in November in which she must win a majority to retain her post. Bird has been under fire by conservatives for voting to reverse either the convictions or death sentences of the 40 condemned men whose appeals have gone through her court.

In their statement, the churchmen said that "putting a person to death denies that God can yet bring good from the situation and the individual." They also pointed out that in California, "more than half of the death row prisoners are people of color."

Noting that "almost all" death row inmates come from backgrounds of poverty, the bishops state that "it is an accepted truth that whether a person is executed or not depends almost totally on that person's attorney. The poor continue to suffer."

Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong of Newark is floating a trial balloon within his diocese: Might New Jersey Episcopalians think favorably about electing a woman as suffragan, or assistant, bishop, if he were to call for the election of a suffragan?

Not that he's actually calling for such an election at this point, the maverick bishop went on to explain in "The Bishop's Voice" column in his diocesan paper.

But wouldn't it be something for the Newark diocese, "which frequently by God's grace has been a leader in the Episcopal church," to be the one to provide the Anglican communion its first woman bishop, he mused.

Spong said there is an "unwritten tradition" of 10 years' experience in the priesthood for any prospective bishop. The church's General Convention approved ordaining women nearly 10 years ago.

Spong, who has indicated no specific intention to call for the election of a suffragan, said he is getting "wonderful reactions" to his trial balloon. In a related development, the Anglican Bishop of London said that if a woman were ordained bishop in the United States, he would no longer believe himself to be in communion with bishops of any part of the Anglican communion who performed such an act.

Heads of Anglican churches throughout the world are expected to discuss the possibility of women bishops when they meet in Toronto in March.

Charles Scriven, who has taught systematic theology at Walla Walla College and written extensively for church publications, is the new senior pastor of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park . . . .

The Baptist Ministers' Conference of Washington, D.C., and Vicinity will present service awards to the Rev. John J. Koger of New Bethany Baptist Church and the Rev. Roosevelt McIntyre of Meridian Hill Baptist Church . . . .

The Rev. Kenneth G. Hurto, formerly of Des Moines, is the new minister at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church . . . .

Robert F. Spann, formerly director of communication for the DeKalb, Ga., Chamber of Commerce, has been named coordinator for the visit of Pope John Paul II to this country in the fall of next year.