Catholics serve up St. Paddy's special

March 17, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Roman Catholics in West Virginia who'd like to chow down on corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day may have to cross the Potomac River to enjoy the traditional Irish-American dish.

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Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore - including Washington and Frederick counties - have been granted a special dispensation from the Catholic Church's rule of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

But Catholics across the Potomac River in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle haven't gotten a similar break from their bishop.

Despite well-publicized easing of the church rule in places like Boston and Philadelphia and requests from Catholics in his area, Bishop Bernard W. Schmitt of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, has held fast, according to the Rev. Larry Dorsch, spokesman for the diocese.

For one thing, West Virginia doesn't have a large concentration of Irish-Catholics, Dorsch said.

More important, St. Patrick's Day is more of an ethnic celebration and not really celebrated by the Catholic Church as a major saint feast day except in parishes that bear his name, he said.


"As much as the Irish don't want to hear it, St. Patrick's Day is not a feast day in the Catholic community," Dorsch said.

The same church law that says Catholics must abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent gives each bishop the option of making an exception for his jurisdiction, said David Early, spokesman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Historically, it hasn't been uncommon for bishops in areas with a significant Irish-American presence to give followers what's referred to as a special dispensation, or easing of the church law, when St. Patrick's Day has fallen on a Friday during Lent, Early said.

Because it's up to each bishop to decide for himself and there's no requirement for them to report the decision, Early said he has no way of knowing how many bishops have granted special dispensations this year.

Special dispensations apply to a bishop's geographical area, not where the Catholic lives or goes to church, he said.

All but one of the four Tri-State area dioceses have gotten a break from the rule this St. Patrick's Day.

Catholics in Franklin County, Pa., got a special dispensation because St. Patrick is the patron saint of the Diocese of Harrisburg, which has jurisdiction over the county, according to Peggy Fortier, managing editor of the diocese's newspaper, The Catholic Witness.

The diocese always has a special celebration of his saint day, Fortier said.

This year, Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo decided to lift the Friday abstinence requirement as part of that celebration, she said.

While Fulton County, Pa., has a small Irish-Catholic population, Catholics there benefited from the large Irish-Catholic population in other parts of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, said diocese spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks.

Parks said Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, the diocese's first non-Irish bishop, was conscious of the fact that people wanted to celebrate their Irish heritage on St. Patrick's Day, Parks said.

Adamec granted the dispensation but asked that people pray for peace in Northern Ireland that day, she said.

According to the memo sent out to pastors in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler granted a dispensation "because there are many people in the Archdiocese who are of Irish heritage and others who wish they were, and because they desire to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day."

Hagerstown resident Karen Gullace said she was hoping for a special dispensation, which she remembered getting in the past, to keep up a family tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage on the holiday.

"Well, being Irish, I'm kind of happy," said Gullace, 44, youth minister at St. Ann Catholic Church in Hagerstown.

Before the announcement of the dispensation was made last weekend, Gullace said she'd thought about moving the meal to Saturday or Sunday.

It's the only time of the year her four children, ages 10, 11, 15 and 17, get excited about the ethnic dish, she said.

Because she doesn't normally eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, Cathy Carnahan said it's not a big deal for her that Catholics in West Virginia didn't get the break their neighbors did.

"If the church says no meat on Friday, hey, that's fine," said Carnahan, who said the ban hasn't been an issue at St. Leo Catholic Church in Inwood, W.Va.

Even if she had a taste for corned beef, she said she just wouldn't feel right about going up to Hagerstown or somewhere else that's exempt to indulge.

"That has to do with your heart," she said.

The Rev. John DiBacco, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he hasn't heard any complaints from parishioners about the disparity.

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