Citing Woody Allen as a case in point, Attorney General William P. Barr says America is in a headlong moral decline caused by permissiveness and rampant secularism.

      "Today we are in the midst of a great moral crisis," Barr said in an after-dinner speech Tuesday to a conference of conservative Roman Catholics. "We have lived through 25 years now of permissiveness, sexual revolution and the drug culture."A "pithy summary" of the problem was provided by Woody Allen's reaction to criticism of the actor-director's affair with the young adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, Barr said.

      "Genuinely puzzled over all the fuss, Mr. Allen explained to Time magazine that he was in love with the girl," the attorney general said. "Having fallen in love, Mr. Allen implied it must follow as night follows the day the two of them would consummate their love. After all, he said, the heart wants what the heart wants."

      Added Barr, "Try that as an instruction for your children when they ask you if a particular course of conduct is good or bad."

      Allen's comment on the break-up of his relationship with Miss Farrow dramatizes contemporary "licentiousness," the attorney general said.

      "Mr. Allen epigrammatically captures the essence of contemporary moral philosophy. That has been the guiding principle behind our moral decline and the rallying cry of the long binge that began in the mid-1960s."

      Barr spoke to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

      Except possibly for a passing reference to first lady Barbara Bush, the attorney general did not say anything that sounded politically partisan.

      But some of his comments seemed to echo themes in the Republican platform and championed in the current campaign by President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle.

      For example, Barr said legalized abortion and the deterioration of the traditional family were among the most obvious signs of pervasive moral collapse.

      "The secularists of today are clearly fanatics," he said. Their debunking of the "Judeo-Christian moral tradition" has produced "soaring juvenile crime, widespread drug addiction, skyrocketing rates of venereal disease, 1.5 million children aborted each year," he said.