Woman of Good Counsel: A Family Therapist Finds Purpose in Helping the Church Respond to Sexual Abuse Cases

By Spenceley, Arleen | U.S. Catholic, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Woman of Good Counsel: A Family Therapist Finds Purpose in Helping the Church Respond to Sexual Abuse Cases


Spenceley, Arleen, U.S. Catholic


While attending a Catholic school as a child, Nelle Moriarty didn't know what was happening to some of her peers behind closed doors at other schools and churches. It wasn't until she was an adult and victims started to come forward that Moriarty learned of the sexual abuse that took place in the church. And many of the victims who revealed they were abused as children, Moriarty noted, were close to her own age.

"It's very difficult to have this information," says Moriarty, now 62, a licensed marriage and family therapist. She wishes that she could have been able to say or do something to help those children. Today, with her background in human sexuality and experience counseling families and children, Moriarty understands all too well the damage abuse can do to a person's life.

In 2005, a few years after the sex abuse scandal broke as a national news story, Moriarty took a different kind of action: She joined the review board of the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota which advises the bishop on abuse cases. She later became chair of her diocesan board and last year was appointed to the U.S. bishops' National Review Board.

Being a therapist also wasn't something Moriarty had originally planned on; she was studying psychology to become a special education teacher. "As fate would have it, I was dating a guy whose dad was the chair of the counseling department at [Minnesota State University, Mankato]," she says. "They wanted to start a new track called community counseling. I said, 'Oh, heck. I'll be one of your guinea pigs.'"

If her faith played a role in that decision, it was unconscious. But it definitely plays a role in her work as a counselor today. "I am quite sure I would not want to be in that counseling room if I didn't believe Christ was there with me. That would put a burden on me to be able to fix it all."

In her private practice at the Bluestem Center, a child and family development clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Moriarty's clients include adults or adolescents who have mood or anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She also works with Catholic schools in Rochester, counseling children with learning disabilities or other special needs. Her background also gives her a unique insight on sexual abuse victims and the trauma they suffer.

"We know what it does to their lives," Moriarty says. "They feel like it's their fault. They feel a great deal of guilt and shame, and that affects every decision they make."

As chair of her diocesan review board, Moriarty presides over the board's quarterly meetings. At the end of a meeting in 2013, she listened while Winona Bishop John Quinn announced that the U.S. bishops were looking for nominees for open positions on the National Review Board. Moriarty submitted her name for consideration. "If this was where I was supposed to go, I would," she says.

The boards are composed of people from various backgrounds who can provide important perspectives for bishops on abuse cases. …

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