Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Larry K. Graham, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sandra Dixon

Third Advisor

Daniel N. McIntosh


Agency, Albert Bandura, Catholic, Conscience, Pastoral theology, Primacy of conscience


A significant pastoral problem for some Catholics flows from the dissonance they experience when attempting to integrate certain Church teachings with the leading of their conscience as they make moral decisions. All Catholics do not accept every established moral answer or position provided by the Church and integrating those differences between the Church teaching and one's conscience can be difficult--a difficulty affecting parishioner, priest, and Church. This problem is, in part, rooted in and reinforced by the fact that there are two theological strands in the Church's tradition regarding morality. One strand suggests that the moral response is to obey normative Church moral teachings, whereas the other strand suggests that the moral response is to follow your conscience which is informed by Church teaching. The pastoral problem of understanding and exercising conscience while striving to be informed by and responsible to normative Church teachings is at the heart of this research in order to ameliorate the polarization and division that is currently present in this arena.

One of the unstated assumptions and/or insufficiently developed concepts within the primacy of conscience debate between obedience to tradition and following individual conscience is the status of agency as it relates to primacy. The principal thrust of this study of primacy of conscience is that agency is a critical element in understanding the meaning and function of primacy of conscience within the relationship between the social group (as reflected in the terms tradition and teaching) and the individual (as reflected in the term primacy of conscience)--an agency that is interdependent and at times in conflict. This pastoral theological study employs Larry Graham's psychosystemic approach to pastoral theology as it expands the conversation by identifying the pastoral problem of primacy of conscience and the role of agency from a pastoral theological methodology that examines relevant personal and pastoral experience, historical antecedents to the problem, and appropriate conceptual theological and secular resources.

As this study reviews the long and varied history of conscience in the Catholic tradition as illustrated in several critical historical moments, it identifies the problematic character of the two strands within the tradition and reveals the importance of a more developed understanding of agency in light of the tradition's inherent ambiguity. By integrating Albert Bandura's systemic Social Cognitive Theory, this study offers an enhanced understanding of agency from a disciplined behavioral scientific perspective on the social-personal interfaces involved in decision-making in general (i.e., self-reflectiveness, perceived self-efficacy, and social persuasion) which apply to moral concerns and, consequently, amplifies an understanding of primacy of conscience that can inform priestly counsel to Catholics seeking moral guidance.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Donald Augustine Rickard


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

295 p.


Theology, Pastoral counseling, Religion