THERE ARE SO many roles and postures to avoid in responding to the revelations concerning Reps. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) and Gerry Studds (D- Mass.). The first was revealed to have had repeated sexual relations with a 17-year-old female page a few years back, the second to have had repeated sexual relations with a male page who says he may have been 16 at the time 10 years ago when the brief relationship was begun. One doesn't want to gloat. One doesn't want to sneer. One doesn't want to be guilty of an ungenerous or unforgiving failure of human sympathy. And in fact all these one-doesn't-want-to's seemed to prevail in Washington from the moment the news about the two men was released.

Rep. Crane's tears on TV and Rep. Studds' enforced facing up to public disclosure of his homosexuality were both disarming, quieting moments, and they reinforced this initial instinct, a kind of combination of embarrassment and reserve. As public scandals went, these were both surely classic eye-averters; not even the introduction of the predictable political gloss--Rep. Crane's father speaking of the responsibility of corrupt "Washington" in his son's misconduct and various others seeing something noble in Rep. Studds' public admission--seemed able to get many people to think about what had happened. Yesterday, of course, the House finally did. It made the character of its condemnation of the two men more severe than what had been recommended by its ethics committee. The House voted not merely to "reprimand" Reps. Crane and Studds, as the committee had suggested it do, but rather to censure them--a considerably stronger action.

We think the House was right to do that. For whatever claims the plight of the two men may make on one's sympathy, these claims neither conflict with nor render invalid the simple, controlling truth of the situation. That truth is that in engaging in sexual acts with young congressional employees entrusted to their care by parents and teachers and others who believe the congressmen will not misuse them, these men were guilty of a terrible failure of decency and responsibility. They abused their office and they abused their young wards--and the House could hardly do less than it did.