Accused monk’s colleague doubts indecency charges

Author: Zeke MacCormack
Date Published: 10/20/1999

JOHNSON CITY – A visiting colleague of two monks accused of indecency with a youth expressed skepticism about the charges Tuesday as court officials struggled to seat a jury.

“It’s an amazing accusation because of the integrity of these two men, and (the victim) seemed very happy when I saw him,” Mother Anastasia of the Convent of St. Silouan said while awaiting the start of testimony in the trial of Jonathan I. Hitt.

Hitt, known as Father Jeremiah at Christ of the Hills Monastery near Blanco, is charged with nine counts of indecency with a13-year-old novice monk in 1997 at the facility.

The selection of a jury unexpectedly stretched through Tuesday atthe Blanco County Courthouse here, where Mother Anastasia waited in a downstairs hallway.

She had traveled from the Blanco monastery’s sister monastery in Boscobel, Wis., to hear testimony now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today with opening arguments to the jury.

“We’re praying that truth and justice will be done,” said Mother Anastasia, who acknowledged what she called “an extreme bias” in favor of Hitt.

She said the complainant was among several young boys she met while visiting the monastery about six miles south of Blanco.

“He was a carefree young man. He loved it when I saw him,” she said, although she couldn’t recall the date.

Sam A. Greene Jr. formed the Russian Orthodox monastery in the 1970s. It moved to the 105-acre parcel outside Blanco in 1980. Greene, who’s known as Father Benedict, also faces indecency charges raised by the same youth, but a trial date hasn’t been set.

Hitt and Green have pleaded not guilty.

State District Judge Guilford Jones III has barred comments about the case by its participants.

“I think the court is really doing everything it can to make sure everything is fair,” Blanco County Judge George Byars said as prospective jurors milled around the courthouse.

“They’re doing a great deal beyond what they normally do to make sure everything is to the satisfaction of both sides,” Byars said.

Jones closed the courtroom to the public and the news media while potential jurors were questioned because of the sensitive nature of the inquiries.

A court officer said the interviews went beyond questionnaires prospective jurors completed Monday.

That confidential poll included questions about whether prospective jurors had been sexually abused, if they had any views about the religious practices at the monastery and whether adolescents are likely to lie.

After the accusations against Hitt and Greene arose in January, the Russian Orthodox Church broke ties with the monastery because of its refusal to let church officials inspect records and the premises.

Mother Anastasia declined comment about the action, saying only: “I don’t know why that decision was made.”