Pope John Paul II will listen to the concerns of American Roman Catholics on his U.S. visit next month, but he will continue to emphasize traditional church teachings on controversial issues such as birth control, divorce, ordination of women and homosexuality, U.S. church leaders predicted here yesterday.

"As the chief teacher of Catholic truth, {the pope} doesn't change his message as he goes from place to place," said Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The truth of the Catholic faith is not up for agreement or disagreement."

Catholic dissent from church positions is "nothing new, nothing particularly American," May said. "It is not made in America.

"In France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Britain -- he's faced these things all over the world," May said.

The pope's second American tour, which begins Sept. 10 and will take him to nine cities in 10 days, is described as a pastoral visit with a theme of "unity in the work of service."

May and other church leaders at yesterday's news briefing said they expected him to encounter some -- but not much -- evidence of dissent.

"I think there will be people with signs," the archbishop said. "But that's not unusual. That's part of the American way of life . . . . When I ordain priests in the last few years, we see a few people with signs -- 'Equal Rites for Women.' That's all right." he said he expects no large demonstrations.

Last month, a coalition of feminist groups announced plans for demonstrations in every city on the pope's itinerary against the limited roles for women. Gay-rights groups in San Francisco are also mobilizing, staging their first protest last month during a celebrity fund-raiser to help defray the cost of the pope's trip.

"I don't think he's going to satisfy everybody on everything," May said. "He will listen, but he's not going to sit down and shoot the breeze on everything." No formal meetings are planned with dissident groups.

Portraying the papal visit as "an important opportunity and a challenge to American Catholics to affirm their religious identity," May discounted criticisms that the $22 million the trip is expected to cost could be better spent on the poor.

"We can stand on our record as far as the poor are concerned," he said with some passion. He said the church spends that amount on the poor "every two or three days."

He put the cost of the papal trip at "50 cents for every Catholic" and cited the multibillion-dollar advertising budgets of several commercial enterprises.

"All of these {firms} are selling something," he said. "If you are going to try to sell the teachings of Jesus Christ -- the Gospel -- you've got to spend some money.

"It's been eight years" since John Paul's previous visit, he said. "It's time for us to spend 50 cents again."

Despite much-publicized cases of dissent in the American Catholic church, such as the disciplining of Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen and Catholic University theologian Charles E. Curran, May said the church in this country is "far more settled" today than it was in 1979 when the pope last visited.

Nevertheless, he said, "there is a certain amount of confusion in the minds of quite a few good, sincere Catholics over just what it means to be a Catholic -- to believe like a Catholic and to live like a Catholic -- in a wealthy, consumerist, nuclear-armed, secularized country like this one in 1987.

"I look forward to Pope John Paul's visit to help a lot of us examine this question and reaffirm our commitment to our own Catholic tradition."

The pope's itinerary includes Miami; Columbia, S.C.; New Orleans; San Antonio; Phoenix; Los Angeles; Monterey, Calif.; San Francisco, and Detroit.

{In a related development, Southern California's Jewish community said yesterday it dropped plans to boycott the pope's visit after he agreed to meet with American Jewish leaders in Rome this month, The Associated Press reported. The Jewish community has been upset by the pope's meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who has been accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II.}