By Jim Smith
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Ron Travassos was standing in line at a bank in Fall River Monday afternoon when he heard the news he had been hoping for — the bishop had given the go-ahead. The dispensation had been granted.
"Actually, I felt a lot of relief, especially for some of the older people who are very devout," said Travassos, the owner of St. James Irish Pub in this predominantly Portuguese city. "Now everyone can relax a little bit and enjoy their corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day."
Bishop Sean O’Malley, head of the Fall River Diocese, which includes Cape Cod and a large segment of southeastern Massachusetts, had become the object of some good-natured ribbing in recent days over his refusal to grant a dispensation allowing Catholics to eat meat this Friday.
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and other Catholic prelates throughout the state had granted the dispensation last week, leaving Bishop O’Malley the lone holdout.
In a statement Monday, Bishop O’Malley, who is believed to be among those being considered to succeed the ailing Cardinal John O’Connor in New York, said that he changed his position because of the public confusion surrounding the issue and the hundreds of inquiries his office has received over the last week.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
O’Malley said that diocesan policy has historically been to grant dispensations to those who seek them from their local pastor. He said that his initial reluctance to offer the blanket dispensation stemmed from the fact that there had already been a significant relaxation of rules pertaining to Lenten sacrifices in recent decades.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI simplified a complex set of regulations on fast and abstinence, and church leaders reduced the number of times that Catholics were obliged to fast and abstain from meat.
In conjunction with prayer and works of charity, fasting and abstinence are viewed within the church as ways of turning oneself back to God during the penitential season of Lent.
Travassos said that his pub plans to serve more than 1,200 corned beef and cabbage dinners Friday. "Even though this city is about 65 percent Portuguese, there are plenty of Irish around here, and my mother’s a Murphy," he said.
Meanwhile, at the Farragut House restaurant in South Boston, manager Paul Sheehy said that patrons have already started lining up for the traditional helpings of corned beef and cabbage.
"We’re serving it all week long, and we’ll be going right through the parade on Sunday," he said. "That dispensation is something we sort of take for granted around here on St. Patrick’s Day.