A Howard County priest has been charged in connection with the alleged paddling of a 16-year-old member of his Clarksville parish, in what the priest's lawyer described as a hazing-like "test of endurance."

The Rev. John Mike, 37, an associate pastor of the St. Louis Catholic Church, one of the largest parishes in the county, was charged June 10 with one count each of physical abuse and assault and battery of a child, Howard County police said. Mike had been suspended by the Baltimore Archdiocese April 2 and entered a psychiatric treatment program shortly afterward, an archdiocese spokesman said.

Police would not discuss the incident, which occurred in March, or identify the youth. But the priest's attorney, Richard Bennett, said the alleged paddling "was not a sexual incident," and had not resulted in physical harm to the teen-ager. Bennett said the incident was a "grievous error of judgment" but one that "did not approach a level of criminality."

The youth was trying to "test his manhood" by participating in "a physical test of endurance," Bennett said, "very much akin to the kind of things college freshmen go through" in fraternity hazings. Bennett would not say who initiated the incident or elaborate on it further.

The Rev. William Ault, archdiocese spokesman and a classmate of Mike's at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, where they both were ordained in 1975, said the priest began treatment in the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in April and was transferred at the end of May to a residential program at the Institute for Living in Hartford, Conn., at the recommendation of Johns Hopkins doctors.

Ault said that although the incident did not involve sexual contact, " . . . it was our judgment that his entry into a therapy program was appropriate."

The institute, the country's largest private psychiatric hospital, runs a program called The Retreat for the treatment of clergy, lawyers, doctors, business people and other professionals for a variety of psychiatric problems, a spokeswoman said. Mike returned to Howard County briefly last week to face the charges, and was released back to the psychiatric institute on his own recognizance, Ault and Bennett said.

Mike was assigned to the parish for eight years and was described by a church spokesman as widely respected for his work with married couples. Mike was charged on the basis of a complaint filed by the boy's father, police and archdiocese spokesmen said.

A spokesman for the state's attorney's office in Howard County said yesterday that no decision had been made about sending the case to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Bennett described Mike as "an outstanding priest" with no other incidents on his record. He said that while the family agreed to report the incident to police, the parents did "not want this matter to go this far. They didn't want criminal charges to be brought." Attempts to reach the family yesterday were unsuccessful.

Under Maryland law, incidents of alleged child abuse must be reported to police.

"Father Mike has already acknowledged that this was a real mistake," Bennett said. "He's very distraught about it, and seeking counseling. No one ever envisioned that it would go this far."