Public criticism by nine Roman Catholic prelates of Spain's new democratic constitution provoked controversy today less than a week before the charter faces a national referendum.

The primate of Spain, Cardinal Marcelo Gonzalez Martin, began the row by calling the constitution godless and permissive in a pastoral letter to be read in his Toledo archdiocese.

Eight bishops, including the archbishop of Burgos, Msgr. Segundo Garcia de Sierra, quickly supported the primate's criticism that the charter was agnostic, ignored moral values of the family and opened the way to divorce, contraception and sexual irresponsibility.

In letters and telegrams to the primate, they said they would have the letter read in their dioceses.

The constitution, replacing the authoritarian laws of the late Gen. Francisco Franco, will be voted on next Wednesday.

The document separates church and state and guarantees religous freedom. It makes specific mention of Roman Catholicism, but only as a faith with which the state will cooperate and maintain relations. Previously the church had a special status in Spain.

The cardinal's letter was interpreted widely as a recommendation to Spaniards to vote against the constitution. Last week the Spanish bishops' conference decided against taking a stand on the charter, advising that Catholics decide their vote according to their conscience.

The conference adopted a statement saying the basic values of the constitution were its guarantees of human rights, public liberties and religious freedom. Ten of the conference's 75 bishops voted against the statement.