Interest Groups and Doctrinal Change Eating Meat on Friday

Doctrinal change is often believed to be out of the purview of economic interests and, admittedly, there are many factors to consider. In some instances, however, economic interests and groups representing them help explain doctrinal change and changing religious proscriptions. For example, real reform in Roman Catholic Church doctrine was afoot dur ing the late 1950s and 1960s during the reigns of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. These institutional changes were promulgated first through the congregation of bishops assembled to oversee reform (Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965) and then through the particular reform policies of Pope Paul VI. On February 17, 1966, Paul issued an apostolic decree called Paenitemini that made extensive changes in church regulations on penance, including regulatory changes that ended centuries of specific rules on fasting and abstinence (Pope Paul VI, 1966). Abstinence from meat on Fridays had been a major Roman Catholic expression of penance since the third century. This abstinence was made mandatory by Pope Nicholas I in 851 and was continued until 1966 when it was changed by Paul VI. With the exception of several Fridays in Lent, Roman Catholics, at the discretion of local bishops, were no longer required to abstain from meat on at least forty-six Fridays of the year. Economically, the effects of the release of Catholics from the requirement were clear: The price of fish was lowered in the United States38 and in many parts of the world due to a decline in demand. But economics may also help us go behind the narrow confines of effects to analyze the cause of the change.

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