By Margaret Ramirez
MILWAUKEE-A Roman Catholic nun was sentenced Friday to a year in jail and 10 years’ probation for sexually abusing two teenage boys at an elementary school in the 1960s.
Judge M. Joseph Donald said he spent much time contemplating a suitable punishment for Sister Norma Giannini’s crime.
“I’m struggling to understand how it is that someone who spent their entire life providing education and friendship . . . could have been so diabolical,” Donald said.
Giannini, 79, engaged in dozens of sexual encounters with two boys, beginning when they were 12 and 13, while serving as an 8th-grade teacher and principal at St. Patrick’s School, according to the 2006 criminal complaint.
Her stint at the Milwaukee school lasted from 1964 to 1969. Giannini also taught in several Chicago schools from 1949 to 1964 and again from 1970 to 1992, when the Sisters of Mercy removed her over allegations of abuse. She has been living in southwest suburban Oak Lawn.
Donald sentenced Giannini to 10 years in prison on two felony counts of indecent behavior with a child, but he stayed the sentence in favor of probation and a year of incarceration at a Milwaukee County jail facility in Franklin, Wis.
The judge said he decided against sending Giannini to state prison because of her age and health problems. He also recommended Giannini meet with the two victims so she could hear how abuse has affected them.
Prosecutors had sought an 8-year prison sentence.
At the sentencing, victims Gerald Kobs and James St. Patrick read statements on how the abuse had affected them psychologically, hurt their families and destroyed their faith.
St. Patrick said he personally knows of at least 12 other boys abused by Giannini. One committed suicide, and two others have sexually assaulted women, he said.
After he was abused, he said, his own life spiraled downward.
“I was sure I was going to hell for defiling a holy sister,” said St. Patrick. “What worse sin could there be? . . . I’ve been suicidal on and off ever since. I spent decades trying to escape it all through drugs and alcohol. I hated myself.”
Giannini read a brief handwritten statement of remorse.
“Long before this trial, I realized how certain actions of mine have caused pain, confusion and emotional trauma,” she said. “I ask forgiveness from the bottom of my heart. . . . I ask forgiveness of all those whom I have injured.”
After the hearing, both Kobs and St. Patrick expressed frustration with Giannini’s sentence.
“I would have liked her to have served 4 years in prison,” Kobs said. “But 1 year in jail is better than none.”
St. Patrick added, “When will we start dealing with the female rapists in the same way that we deal with male rapists?”
Sister Betty Smith, president of the Sisters of Mercy regional community of Chicago, read a statement expressing the order’s regret for the pain experienced by Kobs, St. Patrick “and anyone else touched by this situation.”
Court documents obtained by the Tribune this week indicate that Giannini admitted to a church review board in 1996 that she had molested at least four other boys, including one in Chicago before her transfer to Milwaukee.
“The Sisters of Mercy pray that all can move forward with compassion and that healing begins,” Smith said.
Although church officials knew in the 1990s of the allegations against Giannini, they did not contact civil authorities. Prosecutors began building their case in 2005 after Kobs and St. Patrick contacted law enforcement officials. Giannini was charged in December 2006 and pleaded no contest in November, just before trial.
Wisconsin was able to prosecute Giannini because she returned to Illinois before the six-year statute of limitations on her crimes had expired. In Wisconsin, the expiration on statute of limitations is suspended as long as the perpetrator remains out of state.
Assistant District Atty. Paul Tiffin said Giannini must report to the correctional facility in the next 60 days. She must serve her probation in Milwaukee County, he said.