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How to eat corned beef without sinning on St. Patrick's Day

Covington Diocese offers canon law loophole
Posted: 1:00 PM, Mar 16, 2017
Updated: 2017-03-17 23:22:22Z

CINCINNATI  - Catholic church leaders in dozens of U.S. cities are bending the rules for St. Patrick’s Day this year. Covington is one of those towns. 

Cincinnati? Not so much.

It’s a calendar quirk that happens about every seven years: The Irish holiday, with its traditional fare of corned beef and cabbage, falls on a Friday in Lent, when adult Catholics are taught to abstain from meat.

Covington is one of at least 21 cities where church officials have issued a broad dispensation from the church’s “law of abstinence.” Cincinnati’s Archbishop will consider individual requests by email, although it’s not clear how many people have actually requested it.

But first, we should address a few side issues.

Yes, corned beef really is meat . And no, it’s really not all that Irish . In fact, people in Ireland are more likely to eat lamb on St. Patrick’s Day than the salt-cured brisket that was popular in colonial America.

Finally, it’s true. American Bishops really are giving different answers to the same question about church law: Is it OK to eat corned beef on a Friday in Lent?

Covington Bishop Roger Foys wrote in the Diocese newsletter that “longstanding custom” is behind his dispensation for about 90,000 Northern Kentucky Catholics.

“This dispensation applies to all the faithful of the Diocese of Covington as well as to anyone present in the Diocese of Covington on that day,” Foys wrote. “Those who avail themselves of this dispensation are encouraged to undertake some other form of penance, especially the works of charity and exercises of piety.”

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr is advising Catholics who want to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day to send him a letter. He’ll decide on their individual requests after conferring with their parish priest.

“The idea here is that he wants to respect the pastors’ autonomy in their parishes,” said Steve Trosley, editor in chief of the Catholic Telegraph. “If the pastor is agreeable, then he’ll grant the dispensation.”

Trosley said on Wednesday it’s not too late to get a dispensation by email , but you know, tick-tock. He wasn’t sure how many of the 500,000 Catholics in the Cincinnati Archdiocese have requested it.

Church leaders in more than 80 cities have offered some form of dispensation this year, according to the Catholic News Agency .

Boston, New York, Atlanta and Detroit are among the towns with broad dispensations. In Denver, Colorado and Lincoln, Nebraska, church officials have publicly announced there will be no dispensations granted for St. Patrick’s Day. In Omaha, Nebraska, Catholics are advised to abstain from meat on Saturday instead of Friday.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, urged Catholics to "exercise due moderation and temperance in festivities and celebrations of the memorial of St. Patrick, in keeping with the solemnity and honor that is due to so great a saint and his tireless efforts to inspire holiness in the Christian faithful."

So, there you have it, all you Irish-for-a-day Catholics. What God really wants is for you to attend your parish fish fry. Sober. But if consuming the salted flesh of a cow is how you want to honor the patron saint of Ireland, you can do it without violating church law by driving to Northern Kentucky.