“If you were a victim of abuse, please let us help you. It’s important for you to know it was not your fault.”
Nancy Hoey can’t repeat that enough.
“We want to help you heal if you were hurt by a priest or another representative of the Church,” said Mrs. Hoey, the victim assistance coordinator (VAC) for the Jefferson City diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.
A Jefferson City native and lifelong Catholic, Mrs. Hoey is the contact person for anyone reporting abuse by a member of the clergy or anyone else working for the Church.
She is a licensed professional counselor and certified clinical trauma professional.
“Victims often think it happened to them because of something they did to deserve it,” she said. “They carry that through their life, and it affects them in so many ways — in their personal relationships, in their person as a whole.”
Her role as the VAC is to accept the report of abuse and offer support, resources and healing to survivors and families.
“The Church acknowledges their pain, and the Church wants to help with their healing,” she said.
Help with healing
The Office of Child and Youth Protection is part of how the diocese complies with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Mrs. Hoey has been serving as the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator since 2011.
The office’s coordinator is Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, chancellor of the diocese.
Mike Berendzen serves as diocesan coordinator of safe environments.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight recently designated Mrs. Hoey to be the point of initial contact for anyone reporting abuse.
Such calls previously were made to the Chancery offices. Bishop McKnight believes it would be less intimidating for people to contact someone who is not directly affiliated with the diocese.
Mrs. Hoey said it’s important for people reporting abuse to feel safe.
“When you’ve been a victim of trauma, it’s a very out-of-control kind of thing,” she said. “So it’s really important that the person understands that they’re in control of this process.
“So I’ll ask them, ‘Where do you want to meet? Do you want to come here? Do you want me to come there? Do you want to meet at my office?’” she said.
She noted that survivors of abuse often feel as if something is wrong with them and that they somehow caused the abuse to happen.
“Sexual assault is a traumatic event, and it causes very deep hurt,” she said. “There is a loss of power that happens when a person’s body is violated. It wounds a person physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“The Church wants to heal that hurt, and I am here to help with that,” she said.
She noted that trauma often leads people to question their belief in God: “If God loves me, how could this happen?”
“Some people do blame the Church, blame God,” she said. “But some people turn to God at this time.”
She believes spiritual healing is an important part of healing the whole person.
“We want people to turn toward God and the Church and not away,” she said. “But if they’re not ready to do that, that’s okay too. We take them where they are.”
“The most beautiful thing”
Mrs. Hoey has been working in the mental-health field for 27 years and as a licensed counselor 10 years. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri.
She established Grace Counseling in Jefferson City in 2010.
As a teenager, she struggled through clinical depression, which solidified her resolve to help people who are suffering from similar conditions.
“I just really felt like this was a ministry that God was calling me to,” she said. “I went through that suffering, and I want to use the gifts I’ve been given through that experience in order to help other people.”
Many of her friends are priests, and she holds them and anyone else who ministers in God’s behalf to a high standard.
“My Catholic faith is a huge part of who I am, and it’s a huge part of my private practice of working with others,” she said.
She realizes that she’s an agent for God’s healing, but not its source.
“I know it’s the Holy Spirit working through me,” she said. “I’m just a vessel.”
She is solid in her faith in God and her relationship to the Church.
“To watch somebody go from hurting horrifically to working through the trauma and taking back their power is the most beautiful thing that you will ever witness,” she said.
A first step
Mrs. Hoey said she’s honored and humbled to serve God and His Church in this role.
“As a trauma professional, it’s hard for me to hear a lot of these things that have happened to people,” she said. “But I’m so glad when they come to me. I know this is the first step in their healing.”
Telling the story, being heard and believed are an important part of the process, she said.
She noted that there haven’t been as many victims coming forward in recent years — a sign that the Church’s policies and protocols for protecting children and young people are working.
“But that doesn’t mean there are not still people out there who are in need of healing,” she said.
Even if the abuse happened years ago, even if the perpetrator has died, “it doesn’t mean the individual doesn’t need help,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can to aid in that process.”
She was quick to point out that past sins of some priests and other agents of the Church should not taint the reputation of the vast majority.
At the same time, good priests want what’s good for their people. That includes protecting children, young people and all who are vulnerable to abuse, and helping people who have been abused find healing.
“It’s important that we don’t try to cover it up or pretend it never happened,” she said. “We don’t want any of what’s happened in the past to happen again.”
For wisdom and courage
Mrs. Hoey asks for prayers for wisdom and the ability to keep doing this work for as long as God wants her to.
For the people she counsels, especially those who are survivors of abuse, she requests prayers for them to have “the courage to come forward so that we can help them, so that they don’t have to continue to suffer.”
Mrs. Hoey can be reached at: (573) 694-3199.