Cardinal Says, ‘Let Them Eat Meat’

Times Staff Writer

Local Catholics received a cardinal’s blessing to break an ancient rule and eat meat today because of a rare convergence of observances: a Lenten Friday and St. Patrick’s Day, which is typically celebrated with corned beef.

But Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had another reason for issuing a dispensation from an edict making the Fridays of Lent days of fast and abstinence.

St. Patrick, who is credited with spreading Christianity in Ireland about 1,500 years ago, is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“The cardinal is taking into account a popular celebration that most Catholics will celebrate in one way or an another,” said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese.


“But he has also asked that people who eat meat today find another day to abstain,” he said, “or some other practice in keeping with the spirit of this season, which prepares us for the death and resurrection of Jesus by calling us to a life of service to others.”

That sentiment was expressed by the half a dozen dioceses from San Diego to Fresno, which granted dispensations.

But not all of the 195 dioceses nationwide were willing to bend the rules, given that what is asked of Catholics by way of penance is fairly minimal and mostly restricted to the 40 days of Lent.

Among the strict traditionalists is the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where people of Irish descent make up the largest minority in the city of 334,000.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese, said, “We believe the Lent season is an opportunity for spiritual renewal and growth through traditional and ancient practices of prayer, fasting and doing good things for others selflessly.

“Maintaining these disciplines is critical in the world in which we live,” he added. “It’s also a small way to unite ourselves with the hungry of the world -- and get a sense of their suffering -- for just a day.”

Tamberg agreed, to a degree.

“Each bishop is pastor of the flock of his area and knows what is best for them,” he said. “What is done in Los Angeles doesn’t have to be done in Pittsburgh. The Catholic Church is big enough to hold all such decisions within itself.”

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has adjusted to coincidences of the calendar before. Last year, Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Year fell on Feb. 9.

At the time, Mahony issued a statement saying that those wishing to celebrate the new year could perform their Ash Wednesday obligation of fasting on the following Saturday.