Archbishop Jozef Glemp, the soft-spoken head of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, is facing a challenge from an unexpected quarter: some of the junior clergy are dissatisfied with his conciliatory approach toward the martial-law government.

Marked differences of opinion within the church, which traditionally has a reputation for unity and discipline, have been evident beneath the surface for months. Rank-and-file unease with Glemp's leadership appears, however, to have reached a new level during the past few weeks, fueled partly by the church's inability to prevent the dissolution of the Solidarity trade union and other independent associations.

Glemp's willingness to support official calls for social peace and his meetings with Poland's military leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, have led some priests to accuse him of "collaborating" with the government. There have even been private mutterings about "Comrade Glemp" and unflattering comparisons with his charismatic predecessor, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.

Glemp's reply has been that his techniques of "quiet diplomacy" are more effective than public protests. He has pointed to a steady stream of memoranda the bishops have addressed to the Communist authorities complaining of specific cases of injustice and the church's success in securing an official promise that Pope John Paul II will be allowed to make a return visit to his homeland in June.

It is certainly true that the bishops have adopted a much stronger tone in private with the government than their cautiously worded public statements might suggest. Last week, for example, Glemp sent a memorandum to the Sejm, Poland's legislature, in which he condemned as morally unacceptable many details of the emergency legislation that is to replace martial law. A copy of the letter was later leaked to Western journalists by sources at the Sejm.

Glemp's critics argue, however, that the net result of his intervention was minor cosmetic changes in the draft that did not substantially alter the government's repressive powers.

The strains within the church were reflected in a remarkable meeting Glemp held three weeks ago with about 300 priests from his Warsaw archdiocese. The purpose of the three-hour meeting was to help clear the air, but the effect was to underline the rift between the church hierarchy and ordinary priests still further.

According to the accounts of people who were present, the atmosphere became emotional after individual clerics accused Glemp of acting "against the nation" and "making a deal" with Jaruzelski over the pope's visit at the expense of Solidarity. One priest expressed his deep "concern" about the primate's public stance and said the church was playing the role of orderly in "a giant concentration camp" that was Poland in order to receive the pope.

Stung by the criticism, Glemp complained that some priests behaved like "journalists" and "juggled with slogans." He insisted that the church should not behave as a political party or a shield for the Solidarity underground.

Such internal arguments have long been staple fare in other Polish institutions. The ostensibly monolithic Communist Party always has been faction-ridden, as was Solidarity in the months before the imposition of martial law a year ago. But it is a novelty in the church, which was ruled with an iron hand by Wyszynski for 32 years until his death in May 1981.

Glemp, a short, stocky man who carefully weighs every move, is well aware that he does not possess Wyszynski's personal authority. It would have been virtually unthinkable for a priest to talk back to Wyszynski at a meeting or to make the kind of criticisms to which Glemp has been subjected recently.

For all Wyszynski's reputation as a doughty fighter against communism, there is no evidence that he would have taken a significantly tougher line to the military government had he been alive. The old cardinal personally chose Glemp as his successor precisely because of his finely tuned political instincts. The stated goals of the two leaders are the same: to ensure the long-term survival of the church and preserve Poland's national identity.

The rift between Glemp and some of his subordinates is partly a product of their different vantage points and partly of the general radicalization of Polish society during the Solidarity period and under martial law. The primate is concerned with grand strategy. Ordinary clergy, on the other hand, are much more closely in touch with the despair of their parishioners and popular outrage at official repression.

One of the criticisms leveled against Glemp at last week's meeting was that the church was not protesting loudly enough about well documented cases of brutality by the riot police, known as ZOMO. One priest was reported to have drawn applause from others when he told Glemp: "People are looking to us for support. We should be out with them in the streets, facing the ZOMO along with the crowds."

Solidarity activists, including Lech Walesa, appear to have ambivalent attitudes toward the church. They credit it with being the sole independent institution in Poland through the years of Stalinism and say survival of the church made Solidarity's own rise possible. This is mixed, however, with a feeling that the church's main concern is itself.

A recent article in an underground publication, Tygodnik Mazowsze, articulated this uneasy sense of betrayal by arguing that Solidarity's emergence had taken much of the pressure off the church because it created a new front line between the government and society.

"This is why Solidarity is being destroyed first. Some priests take the attitude that unless they keep quiet, the church will be attacked next. In fact, they should speak up since, if the church stops protecting Solidarity, it will find itself in the front line of fire," the article said.

A somewhat similar attitude is reported to have been taken by Walesa in a private conversation with his brother who visited him while he was in detention. In an apparent attempt to embarrass the former Solidarity leader, a tape recording of the conversation was handed to senior church officials shortly after his release from internment last month. Those who have heard the tape say that Walesa criticized the church for reaping benefits from Solidarity without doing enough to protect it in return.

The tape was one of the subjects that came up at a meeting between Glemp and Walesa on Nov. 20. According to sources close to the church, Glemp took a magnanimous view of the incident, arguing that it was understandable that Walesa should be feeling the strain of his prolonged detention.

At his meeting with rank-and-file clergy, Glemp confirmed that he had received Walesa to demonstrate support at a time when efforts were being made to discredit him. The meeting took place shortly after NBC News carried a report that security police had shown "sexually compromising pictures" of Walesa to senior church officials. This seems to have been a garbled and incorrect version of the taped conversation.

In fact, Glemp seems uneasy about privileges won by the church during the past few years. He told his priests that the real danger to the church stemmed not from "an excessively passive attitude toward Solidarity" but from "the privileges that the state grants us." The government, he argued, had embarked upon a policy of giving the church everything it asked for -- from pilgrimages to permission to build new churches -- in the hope that this would discredit the church by making it seem like a privileged institution.

"This is a purposeful policy. . . . The authorities know that the public is critical of the consumer style of life adopted by some priests," Glemp was quoted as saying.

For a similar reason, Glemp is suspicious of proposals being floated by some politicians for the creation of a Catholic party in the legislature. He apparently is afraid that such a party would identify the church too closely with a discredited political system--and detract from its primary role of looking after souls.

The overall result of Glemp's quiet diplomacy may have been to help the military authorities maintain social peace and destroy what remains of the Solidarity underground. On the other hand, the strength of the church also may have imposed constraints on the government's behavior and made a return to Stalinist terror less likely, in the view of most political analysts.

In pursuing his long-term goals, Glemp has betrayed an impatience with what he seems to consider the amateurishness of the Solidarity underground and the lack of clarity of its political aims. He reportedly told the priests that a nation had a right to protest if its dignity was trampled on, but it should choose an effective form of protest.

"Sometimes it seems as if the underground is waging a struggle just for the sake of it -- rather than for a concrete program," he was quoted as saying.