Indictment against nun in abuse case from 1960s
A Sister of Mercy who taught in Chicago-area Catholic schools for morethan three decades has been indicted in Wisconsin over allegations thatshe abused pupils at a Milwaukee school nearly 40 years ago.
Sister Norma Giannini is accused of having sexual intercourse with twoboys--ages 12 and 13--when they were students at St. Patrick ElementarySchool in the 1960s. According to a criminal complaint, more than 100sexual encounters took place in the church's convent, school office andone victim's home.
Charges are allowable againstGiannini, 78, because in Wisconsin the statute of limitations halts ifthe alleged offender leaves the state. Giannini, who was serving as an8th-grade teacher and principal at St. Patrick's at the time of thealleged assaults, moved to Illinois in 1969.
The Sisters of Mercy removed Giannini from service in December 1992when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee notified them ofallegations against her, according to Sister Betty Smith, president ofthe order's Chicago region.
After treatment at a facility inSt. Louis, Giannini returned to do clerical work for the order and wasnever allowed to work with minors again, Smith said, adding thatGiannini now lives in a retirement center in the western suburbs.
The archdiocese apparently did not report the allegations to civilauthorities. The accusers recently began working with Milwaukee lawenforcement, and prosecutors filed charges Monday.
Giannini wasprincipal of Most Holy Redeemer School in Evergreen Park when she wasremoved. Smith said parents at the time were not told why Giannini'scontract had been terminated in the middle of the school year.
"We are much wiser about this now," Smith said. "Our sense of duty haschanged as the years have evolved. I think we tried to respond the bestwe could with justice, with compassion and with what we thought wassensitivity to all parties involved. As these years have unfolded withthe whole onslaught of clergy abuse, we've [learned] there isresponsibility to report any abuse."
Giannini is not the onlySister of Mercy facing abuse allegations. Smith said two othernuns--one of them dead--also have been accused. Citing confidentiality,she would not name the nuns and said she could not say if the order hasreported the allegations to civil authorities.
"There areinstances where there have been other individuals who have comeforward," Smith said. "Those situations have been handled separately.There are no criminal charges of any sort."
According to thecriminal complaint, Giannini admitted to an archdiocesan review boardin August 1996 that she had sexual intercourse and oral sex with thetwo boys. The sexual encounters allegedly occurred during music lessonsafter school and while one boy delivered newspapers to the convent onhis paper route.
"She told the panel that she took vows at theage of 18 and she had lived a sheltered life and did not know anythingabout sex," the complaint says. "She told the panel that it wasinfatuation, and she was lonely. ... She stated during the interviewthat the sexual act was not as strong as the emotional need forintimacy."
"Once I left Milwaukee nothing ever happened," shereportedly told the panel. "I never intended to hurt a child. ... Ithought I was in love with both of them."
Like many dioceses,the Milwaukee archdiocese opened its investigations of abuseallegations to law enforcement in 2002, said communications directorKathleen Hohl. This week's criminal charges came as a surprise, shesaid.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network ofthose Abused by Priests, said that since 2002 the group has fieldedmore than 2,000 allegations against Roman Catholic clergy and 300against nuns nationwide.
Jan Hindman, a clinical therapist andauthor in Oregon who has studied more than 1,000 sexual abuse cases,said emotional damage can be especially severe when women are theabusers.
"It's about betrayal," said Hindman. "The greater theexpectation, the greater the trauma when they betray. We have greatexpectations for women. ... Add to that a powerful position as a nun,that makes it even more difficult."
A Chicago native, Gianninibegan teaching in 1949 and served at parish schools including St. Paulof the Cross in Park Ridge, St. Catherine in West Dundee, St. Ita inChicago, St. Catherine in Oak Park and the now-closed St. Finbarr inChicago until 1964.
After her stint in Milwaukee she returnedto Illinois in 1969 and served at Christ the King in Chicago until1972. She then worked at Mother McAuley High School until 1977,finishing there as one of four deans before becoming principal ofLittle Flower on the South Side.
After a brief return to MotherMcAuley, she moved to St. Clare of Montefalco in Chicago, then becameprincipal of Holy Redeemer in 1989.
Because each nun takes a vow of poverty, Smith said, the religious order would finance her legal defense.
In February, a Wisconsin jury convicted Rev. Donald McGuire, a renownedJesuit priest, of molesting two Loyola Academy students during retreatsin the Lake Geneva area in 1967 and 1968.
Prosecutors chose to try McGuire in Wisconsin because he, too, was not shielded by the state's statute of limitations.