RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Gov. L. Douglas Wilder says he did not mean to offend Roman Catholics when he said U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas should reveal his views on abortion because he is Catholic.

''If they're offended, I apologize to them,'' said Wilder, a pro-choice Baptist and Democrat who is considering a bid for president next year.

Wilder told reporters Tuesday in Washington that Thomas should give his views on abortion at his Senate confirmation hearings because ''he has indicated he is a very devout Catholic.''

''The question is, 'How much allegiance is there to the pope?' '' Wilder said.

Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond called Wilder's comments ''inappropriate and most unfortunate.''

''There are many Catholics who serve in public life with distinction. I believe their religious and moral foundations serve the public interest well,'' Sullivan said.

''Catholics are American citizens and are fully capable of serving in any public office. If anyone feels otherwise, the burden of proof would be on them,'' said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington.

Wilder's remarks were also criticized by Democratic and Republican legislators in his home state.

''I wonder how many Catholics there are in his administration? I wonder how many questions he asked them about allegiance to the pope,'' said Republican state Sen. Joseph B. Benedetti, a Catholic.

''I don't think anybody should be summarily dismissed because they're Catholic,'' said Democratic state Sen. Emilie F. Miller of Fairfax, a Catholic who supports abortion rights.

But she added, ''I don't fault the governor for what he said. ''It's probably on the minds of a lot of people.''

Wilder has formed an exploratory committee for a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He also said he thinks Thomas is qualified for the high court and will be confirmed. But he said the nominee has a troubling record on civil rights and affirmative action.

Wilder, who like Thomas is black, was the nation's first elected black governor.

Thomas, a federal appeals court judge, would be the second black to serve on the Supreme Court if he is confirmed by the Senate. He was nominated to replace the retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, the nation's first black Supreme Court justice.