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December 17, 2017
Where it's OK to eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day this Lent
Corned beef and cabbage. Credit: Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock.
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.- If you’re an Irish Catholic (or any Catholic) living in the United States, you will need to check with your local diocese before indulging in corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day this year.

The popular feast day, whose traditional fare is the salty, stringy red meat, poses a predicament for Catholics this year as it falls on a Friday in Lent, when the faithful are required to abstain from meat.

The last time this conundrum cropped up was in 2006, when roughly half of the United States’ 179 Roman Catholic dioceses granted some form of dispensation to the faithful on the memorial of the patron saint of Ireland. (Ironically, corned beef is generally not eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s day - it’s usually lamb or bacon.)

This year, more than 80 dioceses have announced some form of dispensation on St. Patrick’s Day. However, Catholics should check with their local diocese before partaking in the celebratory meats.

“In some places, abstinence from meat is dispensed on St. Patrick’s Day, but those who consume meat that day are required to abstain the next day,” said J.D. Flynn, a canon lawyer and Special Assistant to Bishop James Conley in Lincoln, Neb.

“In some places, a dispensation has been granted for parish or diocesan events. So it would be important to know what the bishop has determined in the place where you are.”

In many cases of dispensation this year, the bishops have requested that the faithful offer up some alternative penance or perform an additional act of charity in lieu of their abstinence from meat. Some dioceses have additional stipulations.

Many Archdioceses have already announced that they will be granting a general dispensation, including Atlanta, Georgia, Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Francisco, California; and the Military Services, USA.

In some places, like the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, and Washington, D.C. the faithful are asked to transfer their day of abstinence to the next day if they choose to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day.

In other Archdioceses, including Detroit, Michigan and Portland, Oregon, as well as the Dioceses of Trenton, N.J.,  Salt Lake City, Utah, and Grand Island, Nebraska, the archbishops and bishops have stipulated that the faithful must ask a priest’s permission if they want a dispensation. These priests can either dispense or commute the required abstinence from meat “for a just cause.”

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, dispensations are being granted on a case by case basis for certain parish or diocesan groups or events that have successfully petitioned the bishop.

Many Dioceses have also publicly granted a dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day, including Bridgeport, Connecticut; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; Jefferson City, Missouri; Oakland, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Providence, Rhode Island; Savannah, Georgia; Worcester, Massachusetts, and Venice, Florida.

Only two dioceses, the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado and the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, have publicly announced that they will not be granting any dispensations for the day.

So, technically, could a Catholic in Denver with a hankering for meat on St. Patrick’s Day drive south for an hour and dine on corned beef once they are in the Diocese of Colorado Springs?

“Generally speaking dispensations, like other kinds of administrative acts, are territorial in the Church, they determine the obligations of those in a territory. There are many exceptions to this, but this is the general principle,” Flynn said.

“In this case, a traveller who is in a place where a law has been dispensed is not bound to observe the law. It doesn’t matter why the person goes to a diocese, just that they’re there. A person should take a look at what the dispensation really says, though,” he added.

What about extremely proud Irish grandmothers (my own) who declare a dispensation for themselves and all their Irish kin, regardless of where they reside?

“Your grandma was, with all due respect to her Irish brilliance, mistaken,” Flynn said.

The Archdioceses and Dioceses listed here are not comprehensive. Catholics wanting to eat meat on St. Patrick’s day should check with their local diocese regarding whether or not they are dispensed, and under what conditions.