The bishop of Belleville has granted a dispensation to all Catholics in the diocese, permitting us to eat meat on Friday, March 17, the feast of St. Patrick. Coupled with the dispensation, however, is the injunction, “If you don’t have to eat meat, then don’t.”
Divining the meaning of this announcement is troubling. It seems to say that if you are simply a good Catholic (one not in the habit of attending daily Mass or reciting the rosary three times a day), you may, if you wish, eat meat. But if you are a really good Catholic and want to be recognized as such, and in addition “don’t have to eat meat,” you shouldn’t.
Canon law recognizes the authority of a bishop to dispense the faithful (or to relax a merely ecclesiastical law) from observance whenever he judges that such relaxation contributes to their spiritual good. No provision is made for a “conditional” or “do it if you insist” dispensation such as Bishop Braxton has promulgated.
The effect of the dispensation grudgingly granted by His Excellency is to make those of us who eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day feel guilty. Maybe that was the point after all.
Joe McDonnell, Belleville