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NPR ran an interesting piece about the saga of whether or not Catholics could eat alligator on Fridays during Lent. According to the story, an alligator merchant by the name of Jim Piculas advocated in a letter to Archibishop Gregory Aymond for permission to consider alligator as seafood, and thus exempt from the prohibition on Friday meat consumption.

Now, aside from the giggles on the matter, what authority does the Archbishop of New Orleans have to set out the orthopractic model of Catholic belief in New Orleans? I understand that the Bishop of Rome has the authority, when speaking ex cathedra, to promulugate doctrine - but I've never heard that other Bishops have this right.

In declaring a reptile equivalent to a fish, the Archbishop seems to have made a fairly significant theological interpretation. What gives him the authority to do so?

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Very briefly, I'm not sure I'd call it doctrine. It's more like law. And the bishops have this authority in their jurisdictions because Rome granted it. The purpose of dietary restrictions can only be fulfilled with respect to the diet of the region, if that makes sense. – svidgen Apr 5 '13 at 14:01
I believe there was a similar incident in Quebec concerning beaver. – Peter Turner Apr 5 '13 at 17:51
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The appropriate Canon law says:

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays [...] (emphasis mine).

In other words, the rules say that the Archbishop has the authority to decide what can be eaten on Fridays in his diocese (he doesn't have to declare alligator to be 'seafood' - that's just a media invention). That doesn't of course mean his decisions apply to all of Catholicism.

See also this question.

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