Many United States bishops bending Lenten rules for St. Patrick's Day celebrations

Milwaukee parishioners can take their dispensation elsewhere: In other words, Dozens of bishops across the United States are granting Catholics one-day dispensations on St. Patrick's Day to break the rules of the holy season of Lent, which prohibit Catholics from eating meat on Fridays to observe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The action spares Irish-Americans in their dioceses from choosing between sinning and enjoying the traditional holiday meal of corned beef. In many cases, the bishops are asking for another day of penance in exchange for relaxing the rules on Friday.

Many bishops offered the same deal the last time St. Patrick's Day fell on a Friday during Lent _ in 2000. The Archdiocese of New York has always extended a dispensation when the calendar lined up because St. Patrick is the patron saint of the archdiocese, spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.

The director of Milwaukee 's St. Patrick's Day parade, Michael O'Leary, said he would stick to the rules if he had not been granted the dispensation _ meaning he would not prepare his corned beef brisket. But with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee 's blessing, he plans to slather his brisket with mustard and other condiments come dinner time Friday.

"It is being done in honor of St. Patrick," O'Leary said. "It's not as though I'm having something I would normally have. It's a special thing."

The connection between Ireland and corned beef dates to colonial times in Boston , when meat was imported from Ireland and then preserved in salt, said Kevin O'Neill, history professor in the Irish Studies program at Boston College . The result _ corned beef _ was associated with Ireland .

While eating meat on a Friday in Lent is not considered a mortal sin _ the gravest category _ it does take a dispensation for the church to lift the rule. At least 67 of the nearly 200 U.S. dioceses provide such dispensations, said Rocco Palmo, a Catholic commentator who has been keeping an informal count on his blog "Whispers in the Loggia."

they can eat corned beef if they travel. But people should not come in from other areas _ where they have not received dispensation _ just to eat meat, said Kathleen Hohl, spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

"It's a dispensation. It's meant to be observed in an appropriate way," Hohl said.

Each local bishop has the authority to allow Catholics in his diocese to forgo the traditional abstention of meat on Fridays or other rules of Lent, said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Typically, bishops will determine if there is a need, he said, such as having a large Irish population.

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, has opted to not grant a dispensation to the 100,000 Catholics in his diocese.

Many parishes moved their St. Patrick's Day celebrations to either Thursday or Saturday, said Jim Wharton, spokesman for the Sioux City Diocese. That allows them to go ahead with their Lenten fish fry events _ a Friday staple that typically yields money for school or parish projects, he said.

In exchange for his corned beef meal, O'Leary said he plans to give up something else, such as chicken wings or beer on a weekend when he is watching sports on television.

"I will deny myself something and pay it back," O'Leary said, reports the AP.

D.M.

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