Nun Faces Indecent Behavior Charges
Complaint Involves Abuse of Boys in '60s

By John Hartzell
Associated Press, carried in Pioneer Press
December 6, 2006

Milwaukee — A 78-year-old nun was charged with two counts of indecent behavior with a child Tuesday in connection with incidents involving male students at a Milwaukee elementary school where she taught and served as principal during the 1960s.

The complaint filed against Norma Giannini in Milwaukee County Circuit Court said many of the incidents took place at a church convent and the St. Patrick's School office.

One of the boys was 13 when the abuse began, and the other was in the seventh grade, according to the complaint.

The first count quoted one of the boys as saying that the nun told him in 1965, when he was 13 years old, to open the buttons of her habit, but he was shaking so badly he could not do so. He said she opened her buttons and instructed him to feel her breasts, grabbing his hands and showing him how.

The complaint quoted him as saying there were about 60 to 80 incidents, including two involving sexual intercourse.

The second count involved a boy who was quoted as saying sexual incidents with the nun began when he was in the seventh grade. That boy reported more than 100 incidents of sexual contact with the nun, including at least one involving sexual intercourse.

Kathleen Hohl, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said the nun was a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and referred any questions about her to that religious order.

"The issue of sexual abuse of children and young people remains an important one for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee," Hohl said. "The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is committed to helping individuals who have experienced or been affected by sexual abuse by church personnel, to protecting children, and is sorry for the pain of the victims/survivors of sexual abuse.

"The Archdiocese of Milwaukee asks that anyone who has been victimized to come forward with the confidence that they will be heard and helped."

Sister Betty Smith, regional president for the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, issued a statement Tuesday in which she said that as soon as the order "learned of the situation in the 1990s, Sister Norma immediately was removed from a position of direct contact with minors."

She said the nun, who served at St. Patrick's from 1964 to 1969 and then worked in Illinois from 1970 to 1994, received extensive counseling at a St. Louis treatment facility and has been closely monitored and separated from minors since then. Giannini has retired from any active work during the past five years because of failing health, Smith said.

"As president of the Sisters of Mercy who serve people in the Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois area, I want you to know that we are deeply troubled by this situation, and our hearts reach out to these two men and their families," she said.

Smith said the order was cooperating with Milwaukee authorities in the case.

Paul Tiffin, a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, said Giannini, who is listed in online court records as living in Oak Lawn, Ill., was not in custody but that arrangements were being made for her to turn herself in. He said no court appearance had been scheduled.

The criminal complaint said members of the Milwaukee Archdiocese Response to Sexual Abuse panel questioned Giannini about the allegations in 1996 and she told them "she had lived a sheltered life and did know anything about sex. She told the panel that it was infatuation and she was lonely."

The Milwaukee chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests criticized the Milwaukee Archdiocese and Archbishop Timothy Dolan for not doing more at that time to see that criminal charges were filed.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.