American Roman Catholic bishops today reaffirmed their support for the church's ban on artificial birth control in a statement that sought to correct an earlier impression that they differed from the orthodox Vatican position.

The statement by Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said that "neither I nor the American bishops' conference reject or challenge the doctrine of the Catholic Church on contraception.

"The intent of my speech was to suggest possible ways of making the church's teaching on contraception better understood and more widely accepted."

Speaking at the World Synod of Bishops here Monday, Quinn called for "a completely honest examination" of the issue, saying that an estimated 80 percent of American Catholic women were defying the Vatican ban on artificial contraceptives and that about 29 percent of U.S. Catholic priests did not view that as "intrinsically immoral."

Quinn also said that such widespread disobedience of church teachings was an "immense" problem and that new approaches to explaining the birth control ban "must be found which are compatible with fidelity to truth and with the changed situation in the modern world."

Conservative churchmen had immediately attacked Quinn's position. Italian Cardinal Pericle Felici said yesterday that Quinn's statistics "don't mean anything" and that there was no need to discuss the issue.

Quinn said today that his statement was designed to clarify "confusing reports about the American bishops and about the substance and intent of my speech" Monday.

"Neither I nor the American Bishops' conference are calling for a change in the doctrine of the Catholic Church on contraception.

"In my speech I offered proposals to the synod for dealing in a constructive way with the personal and demographic problems of the modern world and must be recognized if they are to be dealt with.

"The intent of my speech was to suggest possible ways of making the church's teaching on contraception better understood and more widely accepted." c

The church ban on artificial contraceptives has been a major issue at the synod whose theme is modern family life. Quinn argued that dissent by well-known theologians over the Vatican stand on contraception casts doubts on other church teachings as well.

Britain's Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminister, has also criticized the ban saying many "good, conscientious and faithful" Catholics could not accept it.

Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati also told more than 200 bishops attending the synod that "a new, more positive theology of sexuality is necessary to help people understand and accept the teachings of the church." i

Apart from the bishops, the Vatican has invited 53 lay Catholics -- many of them family-planning experts -- to attend the synod and take part in deliberations on birth control, abortion and divorce.