n an appeal for more democratic government, the head of Poland's influential Roman Catholic Church has called for the "authentic" election of representatives to regional and local legislative councils.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp has urged a series of liberalizing political reforms that would make regional and municipal governments more than rubber-stamp administrations, ceding them more control over their own budgets and subjecting local politicians to genuine voter approval.

The recommendations, revolutionary by Polish Communist standards, were contained in a letter to the Sejm, or parliament, signed by Glemp and delivered earlier this month. The letter was in line with what the church, a major moral voice in this largely Catholic nation, considers its duty to review important political and social issues and take positions.

Efforts to obtain the letter were unsuccessful, but well-informed lay sources described its contents. A spokesman for the Sejm confirmed that the letter had been received by the special parliamentary committee drafting a new law on territorial self-government, but he declined to release it.

The spokesman said that the committee had no objection to the church releasing the letter, but an aide to Glemp also declined to make a copy available out of respect for the fact it was addressed to the Sejm "and not to foreign correspondents."

The church backed local electoral reform in general terms last year as one of 10 theses in a special "white paper" spelling out conditions for a new social accord between Polish society and the government. Glemp's letter is based on a more detailed study of the self-government issue by his Social Council, a group of about two dozen lay Catholic activists who advise the cardinal.

For the most part, the original theses have been ignored by authorities who have pursued their own program of reconciliation with society by eliminating or suspending formerly autonomous groups and instituting new trade unions and social committees closely in step with Communist Party policy. The new groups have been received coolly by the large majority of Poles.

Revision of the election laws is currently under consideration by the government, which next year faces the prospect of new balloting for the national parliament as well as for regional and local legislative councils. The officially sanctioned Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth, a recently founded activist group through which authorities hope to channel social initiatives, is expected to take up the self-government issue at its first national congress in May.

Trying for some democratic wedge into what up to now has been a closed, Communist-orchestrated electoral system, the church has sought to differentiate between voting for local and national legislatures.

Conceding that the national vote must necessarily involve certain "political elements"--a reference to control of candidate lists by the ruling Polish United Workers Party--church officials contend that local elections could be freed of such manipulation.

Local government in Poland begins at the regional level with 49 voivodships, or provinces. Each province is run by a voivod, or regional governor, whose candidacy is nominally approved by the legislative council of the region--known as a National Council--but who in effect is appointed by the prime minister for no preset term of office.

The voivod, in turn, appoints city presidents and town chiefs down the line. Providing for further centralized control, the great bulk of local government revenues consists of funds funneled from the central state administration.

Glemp's proposed reforms address three major areas, according to sources:

* The representatives to regional and local legislative councils should be chosen by "authentic" elections. The term "authentic" refers to how the candidates would be nominated. In the past the candidates' list was drawn up by the Communist-controlled Front of National Unity. The church wants a nominating procedure that would allow for broader social input.

* The legislative councils should be empowered to elect the voivods, city presidents and town chiefs of their choice.

* Local administrations should be made less dependent on state subsidies and become more self-financing.

The letter stops short of presenting a draft bill on self-government. Glemp is understood to regard the church's role as one of advocating basic principles, not writing legislation.

"If these conditions are accepted," said a Polish source familiar with the letter, "it would bring a new era to Poland. We have not had self-government up to now."