That story about the pope requiring Catholics to fast from meat as part of a deal with the fishing industry? Never happened.

That story about the pope requiring Catholics to eat fish as part of a deal with fishing industry?
For some reason people keep sharing this story with the idea that the economic angle is scandalous, or it supports the assertion that the Catholic church is corrupt, or that liturgical practices not literally described in the Bible (Jesus never said anything about the Latin Mass or organ-and-choir music vs. guitar-and-tambourine music) are all random rules that make no sense.
No pope never made a deal with the fishing industry — though MacDonald’s did invent the Filet-o-Fish because hamburger sales lagged during Lent.
Maria Gody of NPR writes that it was actually the King of England who politicized the eating of fish, in an era long before the American founding documents banned Congress from passing any law establishing or prohibiting religions.

Funny enough, while the pope story is a fish tale, an official leader of a church did make fish fasting the law for purely practical reasons. For that story — and the lust our headline promised — we turn to a monarch known for his carnal cravings: Henry VIII.

By the time Henry ascended the throne in 1509, fish dominated the menu for a good part of the year. As one 15th century English schoolboy lamented in his notebook: “Though wyll not beleve how werey I am off fysshe, and how moch I desir to that flesch were cum in ageyn.”

But after Henry became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive.

You see, Henry was desperate with desire for Anne — but Anne wanted a wedding ring. The problem was, Henry already had a wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the pope refused to annul that decades’ long marriage. So Henry broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, declared himself the head of the Church of England and divorced Catherine so he could marry Anne.

Suddenly, eating fish became political. Fish was seen as a ” ‘popish flesh’ that lost favour as fast as Anglicism took root,” as Kate Colquhoun recounts in her book Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking.

Fishermen were hurting. So much so that when Henry’s young son, Edward VI, took over in 1547, fast days were reinstated by law — “for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living.” –NPR, “Lust, lies and empire: The fishy tale behind eating fish on Friday




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