ELLICOTT CITY, MD., SEPT. 24 -- A suspended Howard County priest pleaded guilty today to whipping a 17-year-old member of his Clarksville parish, hanging the youth upside down from a basketball backboard and striking him on the buttocks with a table tennis paddle during what was described in court as "a test of manhood."

The Rev. John Joseph Mike Jr., 38, an associate pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church for seven years, pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse, an offense that carries a maximum 15-year sentence.

As part of a plea bargain, Howard County Circuit Judge Robert F. Fischer sentenced Mike to five years of supervised probation, while prosecutors dropped related assault and battery charges.

Dressed in a sport coat and slacks, the priest, who has been suspended from the Baltimore Archdiocese and enrolled in a psychiatric treatment program since April, offered his "deepest apologies to everyone involved" when asked in court today if he had anything to say on his own behalf.

The charges stemmed from a March 28 incident at the St. Louis Church gymnasium. An abbreviated statement of facts read into the court record by Assistant State's Attorney Gerard Hogan said that the priest had challenged the teen-ager to complete 36 hours of manual labor.

If the youth successfully completed the tasks, the priest promised to take him to a punk music concert in the District, but if he failed, "he would have to remove his earring and renounce his punk life style," Hogan said in court today.

Another prosecutor said today that although the youth's parents had reported the incident to police, resulting in Mike's arrest on June 10, they had been reluctant to press charges against a well-known figure in their church and were satisfied with the plea arrangement.

Defense attorney Richard Bennett said the incident was "not a sexual encounter," but an "unfortunate situation between a teen-age boy trying to test his manhood and a model priest who made an absolute grievous error of judgment."