The Official Catholic Directory has reported that Roman Catholic now apparently comprise 23 per cent of the population of the United States.

An increase of more than half a million Catholics in the past year puts the total at 40.8 million.

The largest increase in Catholic population were reported in Brooklyn, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, sn Antonio and Galveston-Houston.

The annual tabulation of the church satistics reflects a mixed picture as far as church health is concerned.

WHile the Church continues to grew, the rate of growth has slowed.

The number ofconverts - 78598 last year - continues to decrease: there were 1,029 fewer last year than the year before, and 32,119 fewer than 10 years ago.

The statistics reported in this year's directory give added impetus to concern in the church over a shortage of priests.

There are 58,485 ordained priests in the church in the United States today, a figure which includes retired men as well as those in the active ministry. That represents 1,318 fewer priests than there were 10 years ago when there were more than 2 million fewer Catholics.

There are 14,998 young men presently enrolled as candidates for the priesthood. That is 945 fewer than last year, and 24,840 fewer than a decade ago.

(A priest in the office of the chancery of the Washington Archdiocese explained that the cause of much of this decrease over the past decade is that a number of U.S. minor seminaries have closed because there are fewer candidates for the priesthood. Their enrollments were comprised of youngsters, many of whom elected not to become priests. Seminarians today are older, he said, and a larger percentage of them are eventually ordained.)

At he semiannual conference of the nation's hierarchy 18 months ago, the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Jean Jadot, expressed concern about the shortage of priests in the American church.

A similar shortage of nuns - 129,391 today compared to 176,576 a decade ago - has in some measure been compensated for, as the large numbers of nuns who once taught in parochial schools have been replaced by laymen and women.

According to the new statistics, lay teachers account for 66.7 per cent of all instructors in Catholic schools, an increase of more than 2 percent since last year.

Catholic schools continue to diminish in number, in part because of the financial burdens involved in the higher salaries required to pay lay teachers. But the closing are at a lower rate than a few years ago. The total of 10,485 educational institutions reported in the current statistics is only 119 fewer than was listed the year before.

Another factor in the phasing out of some Catholic schools has been a declining Catholic birth rate, as reflected in statistics for infant baptisms. According to the directory, there has been a "downward trend" in the number of infant baptisms since 1962.

This year, however, the 890,677 baptisms reflected a reversal of that downward trend by an increase of 5752 over the previous year.

The directory reports an increase of 79 parishes for a record total of 18,625.

One of the largest areas of growth has been in the number of permanent deacons - men, married or single, who are trained to perform all functions of the priest except granting absolution and offering Mass.

In the past year, 598 permanent deacons were ordained to this newly active office, giving the church a total of 2,498 men to assist in the church's ministry.