Pope John Paul II, in a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops published Saturday, warned that radical feminism "does not reflect or promote the full reality and true dignity of women."

The pope's reference to "radical feminism" was part of a nine-page instruction to U.S. bishops on how to handle and encourage monks and nuns in the sometimesrestive Catholic Church in the United States.It was John Paul's first formal communication to American bishops since 35 U.S. cardinals and archbishops met for four days with the pope and his chief Vatican aides March 8-11 to discuss problems facing the church in modern American society.

The letter, however, was based on the report of a Pontifical Commission headed by Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco that the pope set up in 1983 to study various aspects of "religious" life in the United States.

It made no specific reference to incidents involving some U.S. nuns in support of abortion and other recent challenges to traditional Catholic teaching.

In a section of the letter devoted to "the role of women," the pope noted that the commission and letters from individual bishops "spoke of the topic of feminism."

"I concur with you in supporting and promoting the rights and dignity of women," the pope's letter said, "I acknowledge and praise the tremendous contributions of thousands of dedicated and competent women. They continue to play a vital role in the life of the church.

"However, a radical feminism which seeks the rights of women by attacking and denying fundamental, clear and constant moral teaching does not reflect or promote the full reality and true dignity of women, who have not only a temporal worth, but also an eternal destiny in the 'divine plan,'" he said.

John Paul cited the Virgin Mary as a "woman par excellence" who "embodies that radical dignity of women."

"The equality of men and women must continue to be recognized," the pope said. "That equality should in no way blur or ignore the reality that men and women are different. One is not better than the other, but neither are they identical.Their complementarity is a precious asset for the church and society."