Nun Charged with Sex Abuse

January 9, 2007

Milwaukee - A 78-year-old nun pleaded not guilty Tuesday on charges of sexually abusing two boys at an elementary school where she served as principal during the 1960s.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Commissioner Cedric Cornwall set a personal recognizance bond of $10,000 for Norma Giannini during her initial appearance. A scheduling conference was set for Feb. 12.

Two counts of indecent behavior were filed last month against Giannini concerning alleged incidents while she served at St. Patrick's grade school on Milwaukee's near south side from 1964 to 1969.

The alleged victims, Jim and Gerry, were ages 12 and 13 at the time. They are now in their 50s, but they don't want their last names used.

According to the criminal complaint, Giannini admitted to church officials that she had sex with both boys. In court Tuesday she had no comment.

Jim claims Sister Giannini abused him between 60 and 80 times. Gerry said she sexually abused him about 100 times.

Mary Guentner, a Wisconsin leader of SNAP - the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - spoke on behalf of both alleged victims.

"The allegations are very devious, extensive, severe, hundreds of occasions. This is a shocking level of abuse," Guentner told reporters.

For the first time in 40 years, the accusers and Sister Gianninni were face to face Tuesday. Giannini had no comment for the two men she's accused of sexually abusing.

"They haven't seen this woman since she abused them," Guenter explained. "So today was very traumatic and painful for them."

They looked shocked when they heard Giannini's attorney deny wrongdoing.

"We'll enter a plea of not guilty to the two counts of the information," attorney Nick Kostich told the court commissioner.

After the court hearing, Kostich told reporters he doesn't know how hard they'll fight the allegations.

"She's in very ill health, and I'm not sure physically if she can survive this process, but she's doing the best she can," Kostich said.

The accusers - Jim and Gerry - said they are now in contact with another man who claims Giannini also abused him.

Sister Betty Smith, regional president for the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, has said that Giannini, who worked in Illinois from 1970 to 1994, received extensive counseling at a St. Louis treatment facility after the order "learned of the situation" during the 1990s.

Smith has said the nun, listed in online court records as living in Oak Lawn, Ill., has been closely monitored and separated from minors since then. She retired from any active work during the past five years because of failing health, Smith said.

"... I want you to know that we are deeply troubled by this situation," Smith said in a statement Tuesday.

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 run out.


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