Clarification on the Turkey Indult

One of the most commonly asked questions during the month of November is: did Pope Pius XII grant a dispensation to American Catholics permitting them to eat meat on the Fridays after Thanksgiving?

The short answer is “no.” The indult dispensing American Catholics from abstinence on Fridays after the American secular holiday of Thanksgiving was not granted from the Vatican, even during the time of the antipope Roncalli, but from some local diocesan bishops.  In 1962 it seems to have been granted in the Galveston Diocese, but today there is no valid Roman-rite bishop in any American diocese to grant such a dispensation. 

The Vatican has never granted Americans a national “Thanksgiving Turkey Indult” (i.e., allowing the consumption of left-over turkey on the Friday after Thanksgiving), as some have erroneously believed.

According to the traditional rules of the pre-Vatican II Church (which still apply today), one was always obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays unless:

1. A Holy Day of Obligation would fall on a Friday.

2. The local Ordinary granted a dispensation on that day within his diocese, that is, when local bishops were still VALID and lawful.

According to the Canon Law Digest,  the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, American Ecclesiastical Review  and other journals, two indults were granted to the American bishops for dispensing with the Friday abstinence, in 1931 and 1941, but at neither time was there any mention of the day after the American secular holiday of Thanksgiving.

​The lack of any so-called “Thanksgiving Day Turkey Indult” was confirmed again in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, of February 1963 (Vol. LXIII, No. 5, p 438), with a report entitled, “Friday’s Turkey Rehashed.”

Closing thought:  This is such a marginal issue that it does not deserve any notice in our calendar, as it was something from the Roncalli era, anyway.  There might have been some valid American bishops back then who were willing to grant the dispensation that supposedly had to be renewed on an annual basis.  But putting aside for the moment the question of whether or not they had the authority to do it, none of those valid bishops are alive today.