Was U.S. government aid intended for refugees misdirected to support the Nicaraguan contras during the time when Congress had cut off official funding of the anti-Sandinista rebels? A private relief agency's report, kept under wraps for two years, suggests that this was the case.

Our reporter Lisa Sylvester obtained a copy of the eight-page Catholic Relief Services report, written in March 1985 by a CRS field worker who had visited refugee camps in the Honduran-Nicaraguan border area. It offers further evidence to support the stories we reported then about how humanitarian aid funds were helping the contras. CRS had no role in the distribution of the funds, but was on an observation mission in the area.

The Catholic Relief report was critical of the handling of $7.5 million in Agency for International Development funds, most of which ended up in refugee camps operated by ultraconservative groups working with the contras. In fact, the report charges, much of the AID money could be traced directly to contra groups based in the area near the camps.

After two years, memories differ over the Catholic Relief report and the stir it caused in Foggy Bottom.

A congressional staffer familiar with the report said it had been ''a great headache'' for Catholic Relief Services director Lawrence Pezzullo. The storm abated, the congressional aide recalled, when Pezzullo assured AID officials that the report did not reflect Catholic Relief's official position.

When asked about this, Pezzullo said he wasn't aware that the 1985 report had prompted any grumbling at AID. He said our inquiry was the first he has ever had on the report. When asked whether Catholic Relief and AID had exchanged letters about the report or its contents, Pezzullo said he couldn't remember.

Peter Shiras, the Catholic Relief employee who wrote the 1985 report, would say for the record only what his boss, Pezzullo, had stated about the report: ''It was an internal memo which in no way represents the official position of the Catholic Relief Services.''

It's understandable why Catholic Relief would be reluctant to stir up a ruckus with the Agency for International Development. AID gives Catholic Relief more commodities and other support than it gives any other private relief agency, according to an AID spokesman.

The controversy over refugee relief may have stemmed from the mysterious disparity between AID funds for Nicaraguan refugees and those provided by World Relief and the United Nations. The U.S. government's $7.5 million was specifically targeted to about 3,000 to 5,000 refugees in Honduras close to the Nicaraguan border; World Relief/United Nations had only $4 million to take care of some 17,000 refugees in camps farther away from the border.

Adding to suspicions that the AID money may have been intended for the contras, who were in the border area, was the fact that the bill authorizing the $7.5 million prohibited U.S. government funds from being administered by any U.N. agency.

Noting this, the Catholic Relief report added: ''In a letter to AID director Peter McPherson, Sen. Denton of Alabama clarified that this restriction also applied to World Relief. The explanation given for these restrictions by AID, World Relief and U.N. officials is that World Relief and (the U.N. refugee commission) are not sufficiently supportive of the contras.'' Former Sen. Jeremiah Denton co-sponsored the humanitarian aid legislation.

Asked about this, AID responded with another prepared statement that said: ''A confidential cable from U.S. AID, Honduras, dated April 17, 1985, states that no evidence exists of any AID official ever making such statements. It is a matter of record, however, that the Miskito Indians had consistently voiced their discontent with the U.N. and World Relief program.''

The Catholic Relief report acknowledged that World Relief cut back on its aid as the refugees' agricultural production rose, which may have led some Indians to head for the border area, where more assistance was available. ''In this sense the border assistance program {was} undermining'' the World Relief/U.N. program, the report points out.

In addition, the report notes, some refugees complained that they had been lied to about the aid available in the border region. They ''had really received very little,'' the report states. Where had the assistance gone?