WARSAW, JULY 25 -- Poland's Roman Catholic Church has won government approval for a $10 million, U.S.-funded program to help private-sector agriculture here in a significant concession by communist authorities in the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's visit to the country.

Reversing a position maintained during five years of previous negotiations with the church, the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski granted a tax exemption and customs clearance this month that will allow a church committee to import millions of dollars' worth of needed farm machinery and water-pumping equipment, officials said.

Funds for the imports, which will be provided to private farmers and not to state farms, will come from a $10 million U.S. donation first approved by Congress several years ago but never used by the church because of its inability to obtain the tax and customs waivers. A bill now pending in Congress would extend the appropriation into the next fiscal year, beginning in October, officials said.

According to church officials, senior Polish authorities also have indicated they could now permit the establishment of a formal, nonprofit foundation backed by the church that would institutionalize the aid program and seek to perpetuate it with additional foreign donations as well as business activities inside Poland.

As currently planned by the church committee, the agricultural project will start by providing private farmers with the opportunity to buy machines normally unavailable in Poland. The church then would use the money collected from the sales to finance desperately needed water and sewage projects in rural villages.

The government commitments suggest that the church will be able to revive, at least partially, a project that was a major priority during the early 1980s and was strongly backed by the Reagan administration and other western governments. A total of $28 million originally was pledged to the proposed agricultural foundation by western churches and governments, of which the official U.S. appropriation was the largest single part.

The Polish church's primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, ordered the agricultural fund effort abandoned last September, saying five years of negotiations had showed the government unwilling to accept the initiative. But church officials said the government recently had appeared to give up its longstanding resistance, in part because the project had been scaled down and in part because of the increasingly pressing need to revive Poland's economy.

"I think the government has finally realized that without the initiative of society they will not achieve any of their goals in the economy," said Witold Trzeciakowski, a professor of economics named by Glemp to head a new, 12-member church agricultural committee. "And after the visit of the pope they understood that without cooperation with the church they cannot get out of the current crisis."

The approval for the agricultural fund is the most important of several recent signs that Jaruzelski's government intends to continue a move toward greater cooperation with the church despite tensions raised during the Polish-born pope's recent pilgrimage.

During his eight-day visit to the country in June, the pope angered Jaruzelski with his repeated endorsements of the banned Solidarity trade union and the pontiff's failure to support or even mention the general's peace and economic reform initiatives. At the end of the visit, the general delivered a bitter address at the airport denouncing "alien distortions" of the truth during the papal trip and added that John Paul "cannot take with him {Poland's} problems."

Since then, however, church and state have appeared eager to move toward new agreements. Last week the Polish episcopate formally announced the formation of a commission to study the prospective establishment of diplomatic relations, sought by Jaruzelski, between Poland and the Vatican. Government spokesman Jerzy Urban said official ministries also had begun actively working on the project.

Another government gesture came earlier this month when Jaruzelski's deputy on the ruling Politburo, Jozef Czyrek, paid a visit to the influential club of Catholic intelligentsia in Warsaw to discuss the authorities' desire to improve relations with long-alienated intellectuals. It was the first time that the Catholic club had been visited by a high-level Communist Party official.

Trzeciakowski of the church committee said the breakthrough on the agricultural project came at the end of last month following a meeting he had with Stanislaw Ciosek, a secretary on the party Central Committee who oversees relations with the church.

Currently, about 2,200 Polish villages lack modern water and sewage installations. Many of the private farmers living in these villages are dependent on shallow wells or cisterns and have chronic difficulties collecting enough water to raise animals and maintain a household. Government investments in installing water and sewage systems in the villages are proceeding at such a slow pace that it would take 70 years to complete the projects, according to church estimates.

Under the church plan, $3.5 million worth of pesticide-spraying, mowing and baling machines would be imported from the United States and sold to private farmers under church supervision. Then the Polish zlotys collected from the farmers would be invested in water projects, either solely financed by the church or in conjuction with the state and local farmers' committees.

If the state participates, Trzeciakowski said, up to 9,000 farm family households could be supplied with running water and sewage facilities. A typical farmer, according to the church's estimate, could increase his annual income by 100,000 zlotys, or about $390, by using the larger water supply to raise more cows and pigs.

The church committee also envisages spending $4.5 million to import manufacturing equipment needed to produce parts of the water and sewage system -- such as pumps and valves -- in short supply in Poland. If the government allows the establishment of a foundation, the parts will be manufactured by the church and the profits from their sales used to continue the water and sewage project indefinitely.

If the foundation is blocked, the church committee will be obliged to sell or lease the manufacturing equipment it imports to small private firms, meaning that the project would eventually grind to a halt, Trzeciakowski said. "The question is whether we will have a self-perpetuating business or whether we will only be able to spend the money we already have, which is not so much," he said.

Church officials intend to start up the project even while their foundation proposal is reviewed by government ministries and are currently waiting for the project to be reviewed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has the authority to release the start-up $10 million.