Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, acting on behalf of the national Catholic bishops' organization, sent a letter to Secretary of State James A. Baker III this week raising strong moral concerns about the use of force as a solution to the Persian Gulf crisis.

A military presence can strengthen the pursuit of nonviolent solutions to the crisis, Mahony acknowledged. But, he added, "my concern is that the pressure to use military force may grow as the pursuit of nonviolent options almost inevitably become difficult, complex and slow." Mahony's letter went out Wednesday, before yesterday's White House news conference, when President Bush announced he was sending additional military forces to the gulf.

Mahony appealed to the administration to seriously consider the ethical dimensions of military force, as well as the political and economic considerations.

"Our country needs an informed and substantive discussion of the human and ethical dimensions of the policy choices under consideration," he said. Such a debate should be public and soon, he said.

Mahony, who heads the diocese of Los Angeles, is one of at least a half dozen prominent U.S. clergy who have voiced strong reservations within the last couple of months to the use of violence in the gulf.

Mahony raised six ethical considerations which he said should be part of any official discussion about the gulf.

Is there just cause for military action? Can U.S. objectives -- repelling aggression, assuring oil supplies -- "only be confronted by war?"

Who should decide on the use of force: the president alone, the president and Congress, or "the United Nations which has played an indispensable role in securing international condemnation of Iraq?"

Are the reasons set out for war "the actual objectives of military action?"

Have all other peaceful alternatives been "fully pursued?"

Is the war likely to succeed? No strategy should be pursued that would target civilians, Mahony said, which would rule most out air attacks and mean a limited war.

Finally, he asked, "Are the expressed values at stake so important, i.e., the survival of Kuwait, repelling aggression, etc., that they justify the resort to force and the consequences? . . . Will war with Iraq leave the people of Kuwait, the Middle East and the world better or worse off?"

Mahony is international policy chairman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which begins its annual meeting here Monday.