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Friday Dinner with Non-Catholics

From the book Father Connell Answers Moral Questions
by Very Rev. Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., S.T.D., L.L.D., L.J.D.

Question: If a Catholic dines in the home of a non-Catholic friend on a Friday and meat is served, may he partake of it on the score that the embarrassment he would cause his friend by a refusal would constitute a sufficient incommodum to excuse him from the law of abstinence?

Answer: This case is of frequent occurrence nowadays in the United States, and it would seem that some priests are too ready to give a lenient decision. Now, it is true, there are theologians who state that a Catholic may eat meat which he unexpectedly finds prepared for dinner at a friend’s house on a day of abstinence. Such is the opinion of Damen (Theologia Moralis [Turin, 1947], I, n. 1065) and Merkelbach (Summa Theologiae Moralis [Paris, 1938], II., n. 967).

However, these theologians add that an excusing cause is present only when some grave inconvenience would ensue if the Catholic abstained from the meat or departed without waiting for dinner. Furthermore, it must be emphasized that if the meat were set before the Catholic in contempt of religion, or if it is foreseen that his partaking of it would be the occasion of grave scandal, he must abstain.

Now in our country there would rarely be a grave inconvenience to anyone if a Catholic in the circumstances described courteously declined the meat portion of the dinner. The host might be slightly embarrassed, but he could not reasonably be offended at the guest’s adherence to the dictates of his conscience. Moreover, there would usually be no difficulty in providing the Catholic guest with an adequate meal of abstinence food.

Furthermore, if a Catholic eats meat in this situation there will frequently be scandal. The other guests may not comment on his conduct in his presence, but they will observe it, and to the Catholics it may be an incentive to be more lax in interpreting the law themselves, to the non-Catholics it may furnish the occasion to denounce Catholics in general as inconsistent people and even hypocrites. Accordingly, a priest who is consulted in a case of this kind should ordinarily answer that the Catholic guest is obliged to refuse the meat.

If there are added circumstances in a particular case which point to a grave inconvenience in the event of a refusal, and there is no danger of scandal or contempt of religion, a lenient decision may be given; but this must be regarded as an exceptional case.

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