Catholic University's School of Religion faculty yesterday voted support for the Rev. Charles E. Curran in his conflict with the Vatican and formally requested the entire faculty Senate to join in urging the Vatican to reach a compromise.

Psychology and theology faculties also have adopted statements of support.

Curran, professor of moral theology, has been ordered by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to "reconsider and retract" positions that he has taken on birth control and other issues of sexual ethics or face the loss of his credentials as a Roman Catholic theologian.

Curran has said he will not rescind his views.

Twenty members of the theology faculty at CU have endorsed a statement supporting Curran as "an outstanding teacher . . . mentor and a dedicated loyal member of the university community . . . . "

"If Father Curran's status as a Catholic theologian were denied, it would be a setback for Catholic education in this country," the theologians said. Five members of the theology faculty would not sign the statement.

The faculty of the department of psychology unanimously issued its own statement of support for Curran as a "respected scholar." If the Vatican forces his removal, the psychology faculty's statement said, "the standing of Catholic University in the academic community will be severely damaged."

The Vatican's threat to discipline Curran, an internationally known scholar, has provoked widespread reaction in the church from both the right and the left.

In the fortnight since the case has been made public, more than 600 Roman Catholic theologians around the country have signed a statement of support for him.

The liberal Commonweal magazine called the Vatican's action "a genuine scandal, an action by Rome so dismaying that it requires something beyond outrage."

Defending the right of responsible dissent, Commonweal said that "if Charles Curran's moderate, scholarly, nuanced manner of dissenting cannot be recognized as responsible, then virtually no one's can . . . . What is ultimately at stake in Father Curran's defense is not an individual theologian but the church's larger fidelity to its own truthfulness."

In a review of the case in the Jesuit weekly, America, the Rev. Richard McCormick of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University argued that if the standards applied to Curran "were to be applied to theologians throughout the world, it is clear that the vast majority would not qualify as Catholic theologians," because "most theologians" disagree with the church's teaching on birth control.

He defended dissent in the teaching process as "a part of the human process of growth in understanding." The Vatican's demands for uncritical acceptance of official teaching would have a devastating effect, McCormick said, on "the notion of a university, of Catholic higher education, of theology and of good teaching."

But the Rev. Kenneth Baker, who edits the conservative Homeletic and Pastoral Review, called the Vatican's action "long overdue." Theologians, he said, have "no right to dissent from the teaching authority of the church."

Baker criticized the U.S. Catholic bishops, who operate Catholic University, for permitting the conflict to reach the Vatican. The controversy "doesn't reflect well on American bishops that they couldn't handle this on their own," he said. "They should have handled it a long time ago."

Of the hundreds of theologians who have come to Curran's defense, Baker said: "The Vatican should be consistent and discipline them, too."