A group of conservative Roman Catholic bishops, led by Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York, has rejected a recommendation by the national bishops conference that condom use be explained in church-sponsored AIDS-education programs.

The policy paper on acquired immune deficiency syndrome "has resulted in serious confusion," O'Connor said yesterday. "Some portions of the text have been construed as supporting toleration of educational approaches which I cannot accept as applicable within my area of church jurisdiction."

O'Connor, in Rome Thursday when the report was released here, said he and like-minded bishops would not allow condom use to be explained or discussed in their dioceses' schools, hospitals and youth programs.

But Archbishop John May of St. Louis, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, defended the paper.

"For us not to address such aspects of the AIDS phenomenon would leave people to learn of them from factually misleading campaigns designed to sell certain products or to advocate 'safe sex' without reference to a moral perspective," he said in a statement.

"Many public-health officials have recommended use of condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting or acquiring the AIDS virus, and we acknowledge this fact will be part of a comprehensive factual presentation on the disease," he said.

{Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey appeared to agree yesterday with May's view that discussion of condoms in church educational programs on AIDS is inevitable, Washington Post staff writer Laura Sessions Stepp reported.

{But Hickey and Arlington Archbishop John R. Keating, in a joint statement, made it clear that any discussion should include the church's prohibition against all contraceptive devices, including condoms.

{"Some have interpreted the {bishops'} document as supporting educational programs which promote the use of condoms," they wrote. "That position must be rejected."

{"Second," they continued, "the document has been interpreted to mean that, in effect, pastors and health-care professionals can counsel those who are infected with AIDS and who are determined to remain sexually active to use condoms. That position too must be rejected. It is never morally permissible to employ an intrinsically evil means to achieve a good purpose."

{Condoms can certainly be discussed, the Rev. William E. Lori, secretary to Hickey, said. "But when they are discussed, we want to influence those programs {by} saying they are never entirely effective. And in any discussion . . . Catholic values and the wisdom of the church's teaching must be included."}

In New York, O'Connor said he was deluged with congratulatory messages and calls after criticizing the paper Sunday, when he stepped from the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral after Mass and told reporters that the condom recommendation was "a very grave mistake" that should not have been issued without a full vote of the bishops conference's 380 members.

Asked if the assembled bishops would have rejected the condom provision, he responded, "Unquestionably."

O'Connor said he had received support from bishops from "all over the country," including retiring Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia and Krol's designated successor, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua of Pittsburgh; cardinals Bernard Law of Boston and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J.

Although McCarrick criticized the policy paper, Krol and Bevilacqua said yesterday that it merely had been misinterpreted.

The paper, released by the bishops conference's 50-member administrative board, said instruction about condoms in AIDS-education programs could be permitted if presented within the context of a church teaching that advocates "abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage."

Carl Eifert, spokesman for the conference, said that the policy paper was not put to a vote at the bishops' last general meeting in November but that, given the urgency of the AIDS epidemic, it was decided not to wait until the next meeting in June.

In a statement, Law and 15 other New England bishops said the policy paper spread confusion.

Detroit Archbishop Edmund Szoka, siding with O'Connor and Law, said he "will not permit use of the document in the archdiocese," according to his spokesman, Jay Berman.

A spokesman for Baltimore Archbishop William Borders said the archdiocese probably would not oppose mention of condoms.

"We would endorse the principle of the statement, including complete factual information . . . presented in a context which stresses moral values and encourages people to live by our traditions," the Rev. William Au said.

Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, subject of a Vatican investigation for his allegedly unorthodox views, said he fully supported the paper and called it "a much-needed expression by church leadership on how Catholics should respond to the AIDS crisis."

Last Friday, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, a member of the bishops' AIDS task force and a leader of the American church's liberal wing, said he was "particularly pleased with the document."