Pope John Paul II expressed concern this week over the decline in the number of Catholics who regularly confess their sins.

"Unfortunately it is often the case that penitents do not fervently hasten to the confessional," the pope said in his annual Holy Thursday letter to all the priests of the church throughout the world.

The pontiff said part of the blame lies with "pastors today who are suffering from a kind of spiritual desert." He urged priests to confess regularly and to actively encourage Catholics in their parishes to do the same.

The pope's letter, published in several languages, said increased spirituality among priests will help attract "the people of our time who too often have the impression of a world empty of God."

On Holy Thursday next week, the day when Christians commemorate Christ's last supper with his disciples, Catholic priests formally renew their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

The Episcopal Church has begun an effort to fight discrimination against victims of AIDS and their families.

Several hundred lay persons and priests from throughout the country gathered in San Francisco earlier this month and made plans to create a network of churches committed to assisting victims of the disease as well as to work for more public support for research and social services.

Spearheading the effort has been California Bishop William Swing and a church-based ministry for homosexuals in San Francisco called the Parsonage. Marion Cedarblade, who works at the Parsonage, stressed the importance of dealing with AIDS outside cities like New York and San Francisco.

While the largest number of AIDS victims are now concentrated in these cities, Cedarblade said, many have families elsewhere who need help in understanding the disease and dealing with the problems, both emotional and medical, that it raises.

Authorities in the East Texas college town of Longview believe a heated argument over a 17-foot-high abstract sculpture may have been the cause of a college student being beaten with a Bible.

Mark Dowden, a photography student at Kilgore college, said he suffered a concussion after being beaten over the head with the Bible by five men who, he said, claimed to be members of the Universal Church of God.

The pastor of the conservative church, the Rev. Ray Lampley, had repeatedly condemned the sculpture as a "pile of junk" that represented "the threat . . . of mind control and communism."

Dowden and other students had protested the college's removal of the sculpture in what school officials said was an effort to defuse the dispute over its artistic merits.

An evangelical group within the Church of England has threatened schism if the Vatican recognizes the validity of Anglican ordinations, as has been proposed.

Cardinal Jan Willebrands, who heads the Vatican Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, has said the accord between the two churches being produced by extended unity talks could make it possible for Rome to acknowledge Anglican clergy as validly ordained.

But a spokesman for the London-based Church Society, oldest evangelical body within the Church of England, says it is ready to set up "a continuing Church of England . . . which would maintain the rites, ceremonies and doctrines of the Protestant Reformed religion, as by law established."

All those jokes about the Catholic Church and bingo may soon dry up in Cleveland.

Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, has asked diocesan churches and schools to stop promoting their bingo nights through large signs and newspaper ads because they detract from the church's image.

The Rev. Ralph E. Wiatrowski, chancellor of the diocese, acknowledges that bingo is still a major fund-raiser. But he said the diocese will "explore ways to promote better stewardship in giving and tithing to the churches and schools."

Two area groups that maintain counseling services are seeking volunteers.

The Crossroads program, based at Providence Hospital in the District, is looking for volunteers whom they will train to visit terminally ill persons. The 30-hour training course will run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 14 to 25, at the hospital. Prospective volunteers can get more information at 269-7470 or 269-7439.

Contact Washington, a church-based ecumenical telephone helpline, is looking for volunteers who are "good listeners" and "interested in community outreach." The Rev. William Wendt, director of the St. Francis Counseling Center, and Dr. Barry Mayberry, director of the Capitol Hill Health Center, will train volunteers beginning May 10. Call 582-4006 during the day or 293-4411 after 6 p.m. to volunteer.