The widespread discussion generated by the Vatican's reiteration last January of Catholic Church refusal to ordain women to the priesthood has apparently increased sentiment among the faithful in favor of women priests.

But according to a new Gallup Poll. fewer than half of American Catholics favor ordaining women.

The poll, commissioned by an ad hoc coalition of groups and individuals favoring women's ordination, shows that in the two months following the Vatican declaration on Jan. 27, sentiment among Catholics in favor of women priests increased by 10 percentage points, from 31 per cent on Feb. 18 to 41 per cent in the poll taken the week of March 18 to 21.

Poll results were based on responses from a total of 1,204 Catholics in the Gallup sample in three polling periods who were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "It would be a good thing if women were allowed to be ordained as priests."

A similar sampling made by the Chicago-based National Opinion Research Center in 1974 found only 29 per cent in favor of women priests.

According to the Gallup findings, Catholics most likely to favor ordaining women are college-educated men, under 30, living in western states.

Of the total sample, from the three polling periods, 40 per cent of the men, but only 32 per cent of the women, expressed support for ordaining women.

GeographicallY, the most opposition to women priests is found in the eastern United States.

Age, even more than education, appears to determine attitudes on the question. Only 21 per cent of those of over 50, but 54 per cent of those under 30, approve of women priests.

The Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Jan. 27, issued a declaration stating that the church would not ordain women as priests because women lack a "natural resemblance" to Christ, whom the priest represents in administering the sacraments.