Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, the Roman Catholic primate of Poland, told Polish authorities here today that they had to respect basic human rights if they wanted to maintain social peace in the country.

The cardinal was speaking at the end of the annual Corpus Christi holiday which had brought more than 20,000 people into the streets for a procession in Warsaw's picturesque old town. Corpus Christi is the one day that the Communist Party permits religious parades throughout the country.

In an apparent reference to the recent arrests of members of the dissident Workers Defense Committee and the protests they provoked, the cardinal said, "We fear everything that might be a violation of human rights today, as this might give birth to new unrest tomorrow."

The 20-minute sermon which defended Christian morality, stressed that the spirit of the Gospels should pervade all sectors of national life and called on world leaders to be sincere in their quest for world peace.

Some observers had expected the address to be more outspoken.

It is thought that yesterday's release from prison on health grounds of Jan Josef Lipski, a Workers Defense Committee member and literary critic, may have prompted the moderate tone. The church may have taken the release as a sign that the authorities are hesitating about continuing their hard line against the dissidents.

It may also be that the church has decided that political tension has reached the level at which church leaders traditionally move to calm the population.

Present at the ceremony was Vatican diplomat Archbishop Luigi Poggi who leaves Warsaw Friday after a three-week visit. During the visit he completed another round of talks with the Polish government on normalizing relations with little discernible result.

Archbishop Poggi also visited outlying dioceses where he stressed that the main purpose of his talks was to serve the cause of the church in Poland. This was to allay fears that the interests of the Vatican and the church in Poland might be antithetical and that the Polish government was trying to exploit the differences.

Indeed, it is reported that the government would like to see some kind of Vatican representatives in Poland with diplomatic status but with no formal link with the Polish church, providing an opportunity to play one off against the other.

Both the Vatican and the Polish church, however are agreed that this is unacceptable, and observers feel that the Vatican-government talks will not succeed until the Polish authorities agree that the Vatican and the church in Poland are linked.

The government is thought to be eager for results to enhance the chances for a meeting between Communist Party leader Edward Gierek and Pope Paul during Gierek's scheduled trip to Italy next November.