President Clinton, seeking spiritual solace at a moment of political peril, for the first time Friday included Monica Lewinsky in his public apology for having an improper relationship with the former White House intern and lying about it.

"I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned," he said, his eyes glistening. He promised to vigorously battle the allegations against him.Although Clinton has apologized several times publicly in recent days as the House prepared for possible impeachment proceedings, Friday's remarks to a gathering of religious leaders was the first time he had included a direct mention of Lewinsky.

"It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow that I feel is genuine - first and most important my family, also my friends, my staff my cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family and the American people.

"I have asked all for their forgiveness. But I believe to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required," he said.

Reading from notes as his hushed audience of more than 100 ministers, priests and other religious leaders listened, the president said he had a broken spirit but still hoped to regain the nation's trust.

"If my repentance is genuine and sustained, and if I can maintain both a broken spirit and a strong heart, then good can come of this for our country as well as for me and my family," he said.

That remark drew hearty applause.

Clinton spoke just hours before the public release of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to the House accusing the president of perjury, obstruction of justice and other possibly impeachable offenses in connection with the Lewinsky affair.

While vowing to change his ways and "repair breaches of my own making," Clinton also said he would instruct his lawyers to mount a vigorous defense against the Starr charges, "using all available appropriate arguments."

"But legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong," he added.

Afterward, some of the clergy praised the president for what they saw as a heartfelt penance.

"He couldn't be more contrite," said the Rev. Fred Davie of the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Anybody who couldn't see that has another agenda altogether."

Rabbi Edward Cohn of Los Angeles said, "I love this man. I've been surprised how unforgiving religious leaders seem to be" - referring to criticism from around the country. "I want to see him continue what he's started. He's good for America."

Clinton, delivering his 12-minute speech in the East Room of the White House, emphasized he was struggling to heal the wounds he had inflicted on his family.

"As you might imagine," Clinton said, "I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to the end of this, the rock-bottom truth of where I am," he said.

After his remarks, the president turned to Gerald Mann of the Riverbend Church in Austin, Texas, and asked him to lead the assembly in prayer.

"Our father, our great land needs healing, a healing of the soul. And so we pray for the soul of our first family," he said as Clinton stood at his side, head bowed. "For Chelsea, let her feel the love and the prayers that go out for her. For our first lady, give her the strength to continue to show all of us what grace and courage and mercy look like."

Putting on his reading glasses, Clinton read a passage from the Yom Kippur liturgy that talked about fall as a time for "turning" that comes easy in nature but not for man. To muffled affirmations from around the East Room, Clinton concluded the passage with a prayer of his own:

"I ask that God give me a clean heart, let me walk by faith and not sight. I ask once again to be able to love my neighbor - all my neighbors - as myself, to be an instrument of God's peace, to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in the end, the work of my hands, be pleasing. This is what I wanted to say to you today."