Jeremy Stone was identified incorrectly Tuesday as director of the National Science Federation instead of the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Jeremy Stone, director of the Federation of American Scientists, was incorrectly identified in an article last Saturday about a planned conference here on nuclear war. Correction Dr. Jeremy Stone, director of the Federation of American Scientists, was incorrectly identified in an article last Saturday about a planned conference here on nuclear war.

The reason the White House sent its chief disarmament negotiator to "A Call to Peacemaking" was sitting on the stage of the grubby, inner-city gymnasium of Gonzaga High School Saturday. It was Archbishop James A. Hickey of Washington, the city that would be the No. 1 target of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Other peace groups beg in vain for high-level spokesmen to give the administration side of what used to be called the arms buildup and is now euphemistically known as "the defense modernization program." The archbishop had no trouble lining up Maj. Gen. Edward V. Rowny, who is negotiating with the Soviets in Geneva. There are 25 million Catholics in the United States, and most of them voted for President Reagan in 1980.

As it happened, Rowny could not attend the convocation because of the death of his mother. But his aide, Maj. James Kealey, read the general's speech, having first advised the audience that both he and Rowny are Catholics.

The gist of the general's message was that the negotiating team needs "support and prayers" in its efforts to bring about President Reagan's "bold" proposals.

An earlier administration speaker, Joseph Lehman of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, a Catholic, called the nuclear freeze proposal the "laetrile" of arms control and accused its advocates of having "trivialized" the peace movement. He indignantly denied the contention of congressional freeze leader Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that the freeze had driven Reagan to the negotiating table.

The day's biggest hand went to Jeremy Stone, director of the National Science Federation, who followed Kealy and announced jauntily that he was "neither a major general nor a Catholic."

Stone caused Hickey alternately to flinch and beam during his remarks. He suggested that to answer the question of who's ahead in the arms race, "the Jesuits be put to counting warheads." He congratulated Catholics on "being ahead in the peace race."

Stone also apparently put his finger on the problem as perceived by a majority of the 1,400 persons in the audience. He pointed out that Reagan had opposed all previous arms agreements and that the three people in charge in Geneva -- Rowny, Eugene V. Rostow and Paul Nitze -- "are as opposed to arms agreements as he is."

At that, the hall gave him a standing ovation. The president, it seems, is held by voters to be virtually blameless in the failing economy. A new Los Angeles Times poll, for instance, shows him a poor ninth among suspects as the culprit for deficits and unemployment. He trails the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Japan, Congress, business, unions, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Democratic Party and Jimmy Carter.

Do they hold him accountable for the arms buildup? The election will not turn on war and peace -- the economy is paramount. But the idea that Catholics, who in the past could be counted on to support the "just war" concept and whose leaders gave absolution to the Vietnam war, could express skepticism about his genuineness as a peacemaker is painful and smacks of betrayal to White House politicos.

The nuclear debate has gotten out of hand. What used to be left to the experts, to the connoisseurs of throw weight, to the body counters -- "only" 20 million casualties -- has seeped into the streets. It is especially galling to the military hierarchy that the discussion is being taken over by members of the Catholic hierarchy. Hickey is one of 135 prelates who have endorsed the freeze.

His careful, organized campaign to focus the thoughts of his flock on the nuclear question distresses the administration. Hickey is not as radical as some of his brothers, including Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen of Amarillo and Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle who advocate a much more frontal attack on the defense budget.

But his stated determination "not to permit the moral and human dimensions of the nuclear policy to be neglected or ignored in the deliberations of experts and politicians" is another reminder that the administration's campaign to make Americans more afraid of the Soviets than of nuclear weapons has not been a total success even in an institution with impeccable anti-communist credentials.

No one knows exactly how it happened -- possibly the chat about "demonstration shots," possibly "crisis relocation planning." But it is obvious that the Catholic bishops feel the president needs instruction in the doctrine that nuclear war is not just different in degree, but in kind.

Hickey has told the priests of the Washington archdiocese to preach about the question. It's a little warning that supporting constitutional amendments for school prayer and against abortion, not to mention tuition tax credits, may not be everything to Catholic voters.

The Republican National Committee thinks that the nuclear freeze will not be a major issue in the fall campaign, except in a few districts. But the Roman Catholic Church, they sadly concede, has given the peace movement a respectability for which people only prayed before.