Date of Award

Spring April 2013

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Master of Arts



School or College

Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Jonathan Rothchild


This thesis critically examines the cases of Vatican intervention with the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (LCWR) and Charles Curran to explore the question of whether legitimate dissent is possible as an act of conscience. The Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, as well as the exchange between Sr. Pat Farrell, then-president of the LCWR, and Bishop Blair, the one who conducted the investigation on the LCWR, on “Fresh Air,” a radio show on National Public Radio raise questions about how the Church is to understand truth, obedience, and conscience. This event also raises questions about why this controversy occurs at this point in history.

To critically examine the differing perspectives of dissent and conscience, I analyze the case of Charles Curran, a Catholic priest and former professor at Catholic University of America, to exlore how dissent might be understood to be an act of a holistic conscience – one that takes seriously the subjective/ affective elements of human experience as well as the objective pole of morality. By applying the insights of the Curran case analogously to the LCWR case, with the help of Robert K. Vischer’s articulation of the relational dimension of conscience, this thesis articulates how the Church might understand its role in being a venue for consciences to thrive while preserving its claim of authentic teaching authority.