Nun Pleads No Contest in Sex Abuse

source:  New York Times, November 13, 2007

Published: November 13, 2007

A Roman Catholic nun pleaded no contest yesterday to two counts of indecent behavior with a child in connection with accusations from the 1960s when she was a principal and teacher at a Catholic school in Milwaukee.

The nun, Norma Giannini, 79, faces up to 20 years in prison for what prosecutors say was sexual abuse of two male students.

Although dozens of nuns have been accused of sexual abuse, often in civil lawsuits, Sister Giannini is one of the first to face criminal charges, said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that compiles reports about abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, said she hoped the case would encourage more victims of nuns to come forward. “I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Fox said.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, Sister Giannini repeatedly assaulted the two boys while they were in middle school at St. Patrick School. The complaint said the assaults included intercourse and occurred in numerous locations, including a convent and a classroom.

The men who say they were abused, Gerald Kobs and James St. Patrick, now in their 50s, attended Monday’s hearing in Milwaukee.

“This is just a tragic situation for everyone involved,” said Sister Betty Smith, president of the Regional Community of Chicago of the Sisters of Mercy, the religious order to which Sister Giannini belongs.

Sister Smith said Sister Giannini had been removed from work with minors after one of the men came forward with accusations in 1992. She will be sentenced on Feb. 1.

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