December 6, 2006

By Kim Janssen Staff writer

Catholic Church leaders were warned more than a decade ago about a former Chicago nun who was charged Monday with repeatedly sexually abusing two Milwaukee schoolboys, the president of Chicago's Sisters of Mercy said Tuesday.
But Sister Betty Smith said a confidentiality agreement with the man who made the allegations against Sister Norma Giannini in 1992 meant that the order of nuns could not contact police at the time.
Giannini -- who taught at four Sisters of Mercy schools in the Southland and was principal of two -- faces two counts of indecent behavior with a child dating to her time as principal of a Milwaukee Catholic school in the late 1960s.
She abused the boys, both 13 when the abuse began, more than 160 times over four years, according to the charges. They allege that Giannini urged one of the boys to remove her habit and feel her breasts, with the abuse eventually progressing to having sexual intercourse with both boys.
Giannini, now 78 and residing in Oak Lawn, was removed from contact with children, placed under "close supervision" and given counseling after the allegations were first made in 1992, Smith said, adding that no allegations had been made against her in her 23 years of teaching in Illinois.
Giannini taught at Christ the King grade school in Chicago's Beverly community from 1969 to 1972 and from 1972 to 1976 at Mother McCauley High School in Beverly, serving as dean in her final year.
She returned to McCauley in a clerical role from 1982 to 1983, before becoming principal at St. Clare de Montefalco grade school in the Garfield Ridge community and in 1989 at Most Holy Redeemer grade school in Evergreen Park.
Under questioning from an Archdiocese of Milwaukee investigator, Giannini confessed in 1996 to having sex with the two Milwaukee boys, according to the charges filed by the Milwaukee County district attorney's office.
"She told (investigators) that she took vows at 16, and she had lived a sheltered life and did not know anything about sex," the complaint states. "She said that it was infatuation, and she was lonely."
Giannini said she believed the sex was consensual because she "thought I was in love with them," according to the complaint.
Her confession, also made under the confidentiality agreement, was never shared with the Sisters of Mercy, Smith said, disputing whether it amounted to a legal confession and adding that it was the victim's choice not to contact police.
"I can say with assurance that we acted responsibly and with due diligence, given what we knew in 1992," Smith said.
Describing the case as "extremely sad for everyone involved," she said there's "enough sadness too fill way too much space when something like this occurs."
Neither the victim's complaint nor Giannini's confession was forwarded to authorities, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Paul Tiffin said.
Indecent assault cases in Wisconsin normally are not able to be prosecuted after six years, but because Giannini has lived in Illinois since the alleged incidents, the statute of limitations does not apply, prosecutors said.
Archdiocese of Milwaukee spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl referred all questions regarding Giannini to the Sisters of Mercy.
The case is a good example of why victims of clergy abuse should contact police directly, according to the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.
Paul Isely of SNAP said confidentiality agreements were "almost always" offered by church leaders, rather than requested by victims, and were designed to legally bind victims to church secrecy.
"Victims of child abuse very rarely come forward, period," he said. "And when they do, they often blame themselves. It's ridiculous to put the reporting requirement on the abused child -- that's why confidentiality agreements aren't allowed nowadays.
"The question is, how many other confessed abusers are being protected by confidentiality agreements made by this and other orders?" Isely said.
Arrangements were being made Tuesday to arrest Giannini. No court date has yet been set.
Kim Janssen may be reached at
or (708) 633-5998.

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