Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Reflections on the Energy Crisis
A Statement by the Committee on Social Development and World Peace (Excerpts)
April 2, 1981
“...it would be the height of folly to tamper in
ignorance with the ecology of the entire
The Moral Dimensions of Energy Policy
Catholic social teaching suggests certain clear principles that
should be borne in mind as Americans, remembering their
brothers and sisters in other nations, strive to adjust to a
world where oil and natural gas are no longer readily
Upholding the right to life
It is clear that no overall energy strategy is free from risk to human life....The church recognizes these sad facts. It
is deeply committed to the defense of human life, however, and this commitment is uppermost in its approach to
energy. Energy planners and those in authority must do all in their power to safeguard human life.
Accepting an appropriate share of responsibility for the welfare of creation
Judeo-Christian tradition views human beings not in isolation but as part of a larger whole – as creatures in the
midst of creation. This tradition counsels respect for the natural world, emphasizing that we have duties as well as
rights in its use. Since we derive all our energy from nature, the relationship of humanity and the environment has
the broadest implications for energy policy.
Accepting limitation in a Christian spirit
If preservation of the common good, both domestic and global, requires that we as individuals make sacrifices
related to energy use, we should do so cheerfully. Future resource restrictions may force us to rethink our
expectations; they may even lead to substantial changes in our way of life. This means rising above a
preoccupation with material gain.
Striving for a more just society
The energy policies we choose must reflect a search after justice for all, not only on the level of individual rights
but also with regard to the structures of society. Catholic social teaching has touched on these themes time and
again. Gaudium et Spes declares, “[I]t devolves on humanity to establish a political, social and economic order
which will increasingly serve people and help individuals as well as groups to affirm and develop the dignity proper
to them” no.9. The desire for economic justice must dominate.
Giving special attention to the needs of the poor and members of minority groups
As noted above, poor people, especially those with fixed incomes, will feel the sting of rising energy prices more
keenly than their affluent neighbors. Private agencies and federal, state and local authorities must take whatever
steps are necessary to ensure an adequate supply to people whom poverty or discrimination place at a
disadvantage. No energy policy is acceptable that fails to deal adequately with basic needs.
Domestic policy, far from imposing burdens on the economies of other nations, should be consistent with the goal
of promoting sound development throughout the world.
Participating in the decision-making process
Fairness requires that groups and individuals representing a broad spectrum of opinion have an opportunity to take
part in formulating energy policy. Even local energy decisions often involve danger to life and health, and national
ones can have major economic effects and can help determine the patterns of power in society. Given the
inequalities that pervade American society, fairness may also require active assistance to those whose voice is
rarely heard in policy discussions...
The principle of subsidiarity, as outlined in Quadragesimo Anno and reaffirmed in Mater et Magistra, is relevant to
any discussion of citizen participation. In general terms, the principle holds that social functions that can be
performed by an individual should not be transferred to a group, and that functions that can be performed by a
smaller “collectivity” (the local community, for example), should not be transferred to a larger “collectivity” (state
or, at the next stage, federal government). Pope Pius XI gave the reason: “Inasmuch as every social activity
should, by its very nature, prove a help to members of the body social, it should never destroy or absorb them”
(quoted in Mater et Magistra, 53). In order for energy decisions to be broadly based, they must be taken in
These principles are offered as a framework for moral reflection and action regarding energy policy. They are lenses
through which such policy can be examined, benchmarks by which it can be judged. However, these principles have
their limitations. Because they are general, different people will reach different conclusions when applying them,
say, to nuclear power or coal use. The element of informed individual judgment remains critical. In the same way,
the principles cannot move anyone to take Christian morality seriously in grappling with energy. That is a matter of
faith, a matter of religious commitment.
Our redemption makes us capable of seeking just, generous and loving solutions to the problems we face. But we
are too sinful, given to selfishness, to pursue this difficult search without a conviction that all humanity is one in
Christ. Pope John urged his readers in Pacem in Terris, “in the light of their Christian faith and led by love, to
ensure that the various institutions - whether economic, social, cultural, or political in purpose - will be such as . . .
to facilitate or render less arduous humanity’s self-perfection in both the natural order and the supernatural” (no.
146). Jesus, in St. John’s account, spoke more simply: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in
my love. You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and live in his love. All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete. This is my
commandment: Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:9-12)...
Copyright © 1981, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Washington, D.C.
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