Several years ago, the indultarian Rorate Coeli blog began posting annual reminders that, sometime in the 1950’s, Pope Pius XII allegedly granted Americans a dispensation from abstinence from meat on the Friday following Thanksgiving (what in recent years has become known as the “turkey indult”). See here
The reason for the alleged dispensation was not in response to poor refrigeration in those days, or from any other practical motive, but (so the story goes) because Pius XII wanted Americans to keep on partying, and let the good times roll.
As the notion of a pre-Vatican II pope wiping out penance so that Americans could keep on partying has always seemed rather frivolous and incongruent to me, I decided to investigate the matter more this year than I have in the past.
In previous attempts to locate this elusive indult, I logically began by searching in the AAS (i.e., the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, in which are recorded all the official acts of the Holy See since the time of Pope St. Pius X in 1908), but I was surprised to discover that there was nothing on topic from anytime in the 1950’s.
I next reverted to general internet searches, but all I could find was other people puzzled that they were unable to produce the actual and official text of the alleged dispensation or indult.
Without forming a judgment, I began to question whether in fact such an indult ever really existed, and started to wonder if perhaps all those elderly traditionalists who swear they “remember” the indult from pre-Vatican II days were suffering from faulty memories so many decades later (more on that later).
Inspired again to try and get to the bottom of the matter in time for Thanksgiving 2018, I reopened the case, and think, with the help of a couple others, to have made some progress.
My first move this time around was to go back and dig up an old email correspondence from a couple years ago between myself and a lay friend, where the last failed research attempt ended:
"A friend of mine writes that he found a reference to a “turkey indult”…mentioned on the last page of one of the SSPX liturgical calendars.
Apparently, it references Vol. 1 of the Canon Law Digest, but gives no precise citation.
But Vol. I predates the reign of Pius XII (i.e., It covers 1917 - 1933; Pius XII was elected in 1939): http://www.ebay.com/itm/CANON-LAW-DIGEST-VOLUME-LOT-OF-2-1917-1933-VOL-1-AND-VOL-2-1933-1942-/251979871068
Continuing, this same friend found a thread on the Te Deum forum, which thought to have affirmed the existence of the indult here: http://tedeum.boards.net/thread/1836/another-day-abstinence-question
However, in that thread the citations (in the pics provided there from Vol II and Vol III) do seem to address dispensations for national holidays, but makes no mention of the Friday after the holiday).
As the poster “2Vermont” asks: "I guess I don’t see where it says the Friday after Thanksgiving only on national holidays. I take that to mean only national holidays that might fall on a Friday (say, July 4th).
To which “Fleur” (i.e., who posted the pics from the Digest) responds: “I wish I owned more sources with more information. My understanding is that it was dispensed in nearly every diocese in the US because older people remember it. Under what pretext then, was the dispensation given, if not by this one. It looks as if they included the Friday with the holiday in the case of Thanksgiving. I’ve even found post-Vatican 2 sources that talk about it.”
The thread seemed to rest content in the supposition that the Friday was included as part of the holiday, but that conclusion is gratuitous, and certainly not supported by the citations “Fleur” has provided.
Finally, my friend points out that there is a footnote in Vol II (shown in the pics included in the link above) which refers back to Vol. 1 (p. 584), which, again, predates Pius XII, and which in any case is of unknown content.
So we have just gone around in one big circle yet again.
PS: Does anyone have the Digest (Vol I, p. 584) to see what was referenced there?"
However, a very diligent member of Trad Forum named “Wenceslav” made a bit of a breakthrough of sorts, when he observes:
Hi Mith and Anon.,
Great info! Although, the “Turkey Indult” is not a problem here -in Canada, since Thanksgiving is always on a Monday- it’s an interesting historical question.
I went back to some primary sources i.e. Catholic newspaper archives from the era. The two dioceses that I checked (Little Rock, Arkansas and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania), there was no Turkey Indult permitted until 1963 . Source is here
N.B. By reason of special faculties , His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop, grants herewith the following dispensations: from the Law of Fast on the Feast of St. Joseph, Tuesday, March 19; from the Law of Abstinence on Friday, November 29, (day after Thanksgiving) and from the Laws of Fast and Abstinence on Saturday, December 7, Vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
It seems that the special faculties that the Bishop of Little Rock references are those published in the Digest - see Mith’s copy above. But at least in Little Rock and Pittsburgh, such faculties for “Thanksgiving Friday” were not extended to their respective diocese before 1963. I haven’t checked other diocesan papers if other ordinaries dispensed the laity in their respective diocese. But if I was a betting man, I would hazard to guess that the Turkey Indult wasn’t common in the USA before the early 60s.
For the historical junkie, I did find that bishops were given the faculty to dispense the Friday abstinence for March 19, 1954 for the feast of St. Joseph (but not the Lenten fast). See Source here. Additionally, the diocese of Tucson, Arizona is traditionally permitted to eat meat on Friday. See quote from Catholic newspaper (1941), below:
Are Catholics permitted to eat meat on Friday in any diocese of the United States?
The only diocese in the United States where the eating of meat is permitted is the Diocese of Tucson . At one time all of the Spanish possessions enjoyed this privilege but most of the dioceses in the United States have revoked this privilege. It may be eaten in Mexico and the South American republics.
Source is here
[Wenceslav’s post can be Here]
To Wenceslav’s post, “Anonimus” writes:
That’s a pretty huge find, Wenceslav!
Faulty memories likely attributed a frivolous indult to Pius XII, when in fact it most likely came during the conciliar wreckage under the papacy of John XXIII.
Wish someone would post a link to this finding on CI, to increase awareness.
I realize that with only two dioceses represented, we are being inductive and generalizing therefrom.
Wenceslav later followed up by researching the archives of Wichita, KS:
"I agree with you wholeheartedly. In fact just a quick perusal of another diocesan newspaper from Wichita Kansas shows that the Indult for Thanksgiving Friday was first introduced there in 1962. Note that in each case the Rules for fasting and abstinence in each diocese (during the 1950s and 1940s) contains no reference to a Turkey Indult until the 60s. But I’ll still look through more archives that are available.
See Source here.
Thus, a few things now come into sharper focus:
Not only is there no written record of Pope Pius XII ever having promulgated an indult or granted a national dispensation in the 1950’s which anyone has been able to produce;
Each of the three diocesan archives which Wenceslav has researched have all yielded the same finding: The dispensations were granted by the local bishops, not the Pope;
Most importantly, all these individual diocesan dispensations WERE INTRODUCED DURING OR AFTER THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL!
In other words, they were not granted by a traditional Catholic Pope, but by conciliarists who in 1962-1965 were already jumping the tracks of sound Catholic ascetical practice.
In light of the foregoing, there also seems to be an even more reasonable support to the “faulty memory” theory of those elderly trads (referenced earlier in the quotes between “Anonimus” and “Wenceslav”) who so many decades later swear they can recall the “turkey indult” under Pius XII:
During the years that these local dispensations were given by the bishops during the conciliar years of John XXIII and Paul VI (not Pius XII), the liturgy was still in a transitional stage: From 1962 to 1963 to 1965, to 1967 the Mass which was being eroded still looked very traditional in comparison to the full-blown Novus Ordo which was to follow a few years later (even in the transitional liturgical years of 1962-1967).
In hindsight, did these peoples’ memories mistakenly associate what still looked like the traditional Mass (in comparison to the Novus Ordo, anyway) with Pope Pius XII and the pre-conciliar years, thereby causing them to think after many years that the turkey dispensations came from Pius XII, when in fact they came from the conciliar bishops in the years of John XXIII and Paul VI?
The evidence unearthed thus far by “Wenceslav” certainly leads one to that conclusion.
And given that conclusion, should a traditionalist really be eating meat on Friday, when all the evidence points to the non-existence of any “turkey indult” (at least, one promulgated by a traditional pope or bishop for the day AFTER the holiday, that is)?
PS: I apologize for the poor formatting of this post; I am still getting used to the formatting tools.