Nun Charged with Abuse
She Is Accused of Molesting Two Male Students 40 Years Ago
By Derrick Nunnally and Bob Purvis
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
December 5, 2006
A 78-year-old nun who was principal of a grade school at a south side Milwaukee parish in the 1960s was charged Tuesday with having repeated sexual contact with two boys who attended the school.
Norma Giannini can be prosecuted for the allegations 40 years later because she didn't remain in Wisconsin long enough for the six-year statute of limitations then in place to elapse, according to a criminal complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Giannini moved to Illinois in 1970, the complaint states.
"I thought I was in love with both of them," Giannini told a panel of the Milwaukee Archdiocese Response to Sexual Abuse in 1996 about sex acts with each of her two accusers while they were under 18 and enrolled in the school at St. Patrick's Congregation, 723 W. Washington St., the complaint says.
"Once I left Milwaukee nothing ever happened. . . . I still don't understand it," Giannini told the panel.
The account of her interview with the panel surfaced, according to the complaint, in a Sept. 26 John Doe hearing before Circuit Judge Jeffrey Conen. Records from the hearing remain sealed.
The two former students, now 54 and 53 years old, each described their sexual contact with Giannini to police, according to the complaint, which states:
One of the victims recounted one of the early sexual encounters with the nun in which she instructed him to unbutton her habit and indecently touch her breasts. The boy, who was about 13 at the time, was shaking so badly he couldn't undo the buttons.
As time went on, Giannini had more intense sexual contact with the boy, ultimately leading to sexual intercourse inside her south side home.
She initiated contact with the other boy, a seventh-grader, after discussing his "Beatle-style hair." The boy said the incident caused him confusion because he believed nuns were married to Jesus.
After that the boy recalled having more than 100 incidents of sexual contact with Giannini, including intercourse.
Giannini was charged with two felony counts of indecent behavior with a child, each of which could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. She was not in custody Tuesday, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. Neighbors of an Oak Lawn, Ill., house listed in the complaint as her address said she has not lived there for two months.
In a letter to Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national organization of clergy abuse survivors, questioned Tuesday why diocese officials present at the 1996 panel didn't forward the confession to law enforcement.
"One of these victims went to the archdiocese 10 years ago and they didn't do anything," said Mary Guentner, Wisconsin SNAP leader.
Milwaukee archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl declined to respond to the SNAP letter, and referred questions to the Sisters of Mercy, Giannini's religious order.
"We want to make sure we put together a thorough chronology before we would be able to make a response," Hohl said.
Guentner said she hoped the charges filed against Giannini would prompt any other possible victims to come forward.
"Our hope is that this encourages other victims of this woman and other victims of nuns to come forward," Guentner said.
Guentner said more than 10 people in Milwaukee claiming they have been abused by nuns have spoken with her group, although not all of them want their allegations made public. Nationally, SNAP has heard from roughly 300 victims of sexual abuse by a nun, Guentner said.
Because of societal bias and other factors, victims of nun abuse may be less likely to come forward with their allegations than those molested by male clergy, Guentner said.
"It's always difficult with a boy reporting abuse from a woman because people tend to minimize it," Guentner said. "It's really horrifying what she did to these boys. . . . This woman destroyed these boys' lives."
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