|Nun, 79, Declines to Fight Sex Case
By Margaret Ramirez
November 12, 2007
A nun who taught in Chicago-area Roman Catholic schools for more than three decades pleaded no contest Monday to molesting two teenage boys at a Milwaukee elementary school in the 1960s.
Sister Norma Giannini, 79, was scheduled to go on trial Monday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. But instead she entered the no-contest plea and now stands convicted of two felony counts of indecent behavior with the underage victims.
Victims' advocates said they believe that if she had gone to trial, Giannini would have been the first nun in the country to face a jury for sexually abusing children. She faces up to 20 years in prison when she is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 1 by Circuit Judge M. Joseph Donald in Milwaukee.
"She is not contesting the charges," Nikola Kostich, the nun's attorney, said in explaining the no-contest plea. "She is basically saying that the prosecutor has enough evidence to find her guilty." Kostich said Giannini didn't plead guilty out of concern her admissions could be used in possible civil lawsuits against her religious order, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
According to a criminal complaint filed last December, Giannini engaged in dozens of sexual encounters with the two boys while she was 8th-grade teacher and principal at St. Patrick's School in Milwaukee. The complaint said that many of the incidents took place in the church convent, the school office and one student's home.
The complaint said the boys were 12 and 13 years old at the time of the abuse. Both of the students—James St. Patrick, 53, and Gerald Kobs, 55—attended Monday's hearing. St. Patrick said that he began abusing alcohol and drugs after the incidents and continued to do so for 35 years. He and Kobs "built up the courage over the years" to come forward, he said.
Kobs expressed relief at the nun's plea. "It's very hard to describe. It took so long," he said. "It's close to the end for us, and I can't wait for sentencing."
According to the complaint, Kobs told authorities there were 60 to 80 incidents of sexual contact with Giannini.
St. Patrick said he had sexual contact with the nun more than 100 times, beginning when he was in 7th grade, often after she removed him from class and took him to a bathroom in her office, the complaint alleged. St. Patrick told authorities that "her actions caused him to be confused because he had been taught that nuns were married to Jesus," the complaint said.
According to the complaint, Giannini admitted to an archdiocesan review board in 1996 that she had sex with the two boys. In Kobs' case, she said the abuse occurred after school during music lessons in the convent and in the school office. Giannini said St. Patrick was a paperboy who delivered newspapers to the convent on his route.
She said she never forced sex on the boys, though both were below the age of consent, according to the complaint. "I thought I was in love with both of them," she told the panel. She also claimed that she never engaged in sex with children after she moved to the Chicago area. "I never intended to hurt a child," the complaint quoted her as telling the panel.
Giannini, a Chicago native, left Milwaukee in 1969 and served at Christ the King in Chicago until 1972. She then worked at Mother McAuley High School until 1977, finishing there as one of four deans before becoming principal of Little Flower on the South Side. She moved to St. Clare of Montefalco in Chicago, then became principal of Most Holy Redeemer School in Evergreen Park in 1989.
Despite the fact that 40 years passed since the abuse, Giannini was able to be prosecuted because she moved from Wisconsin before the six-year statute of limitations for indecent behavior with a child expired. By law in Wisconsin, the clock on the statute of limitations doesn't start up again as long as the perpetrator remains living out of state.
"If she had not moved, there never would have been a case," said Milwaukee County Assistant District Atty. Paul Tiffin, who prosecuted Giannini.
The Sisters of Mercy removed Giannini from service in December 1992 when the Archdiocese of Milwaukee notified them of allegations against her. At that time, she was principal of Most Holy Redeemer.
In a statement Monday, Sister Betty Smith, regional president for the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, said Giannini received extensive counseling at a St. Louis treatment facility after the order "learned of the situation" during the 1990s.
Giannini, who lives with other Sisters of Mercy in a Chicago suburb, has been closely monitored and separated from minors since then, Smith said. The nun has been retired from active work for five years because of failing health, she said. "We regard this situation as tragic for everyone involved," Smith said.
Kostich, the nun's attorney, said she would seek an alternative sentence for Giannani because she has several medical issues. "Imprisonment would be the equivalent of a death sentence," Kostich said.
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