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
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 14:01
  • I believe there was a similar incident in Quebec concerning beaver.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


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.

  • The CIC says the Epsicopal Conference has the authority to set such rules. Has the USCCB given that authority to the local bishops? Another question would be, if the letter described in the article meets the formal requirements for an act of legislation.
    – K-HB
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 23:37

Why does any Archbishop get to decide if alligator is okay for Lent?

When he officially gets the go ahead for the conference of Bishops in a particular region or country to do so, the USCCB in this case.

First of all this is a question of Church discipline and not Church doctrine. A second point is that it deals with the local church only at the regional level and not the universal Church level.

As D. J. Clayworth points outs, the archbishop has the authority to do so by virtue of Canon Law. But in order to do so, he has to declare alligator seafood and get the local episcopal conference to agree with him. After all do not alligators live in water?

Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but seafood is allowed. Three years ago, when Jim Piculas was trying to settle a debate among his friends about whether gator qualified as seafood, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of New Orleans to ask.

His letter must have been pretty zealous, because not long after he wrote it, he got a response from Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond saying: "Yes, the alligator's considered in the fish family, and I agree with you — God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana, and it is considered seafood." - Forget Fish Fridays: In Louisiana, Gator Is On The Lenten Menu

By the way you can add beaver, muskrat and foods to such a list in various other regions or local churches. See the following article: TEN WEIRD, WONDERFUL FOODS FOR LENT.

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