Area monks facing charges of indecency

Author: Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Date Published: 01/12/1999

BLANCO – The 54-year-old leader and founder of a Russian Orthodox Monastery near here is expected to surrender to law officials next week to respond to charges of indecency with a child made against him and another monk, Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury said Tuesday.

Samuel A. Greene Jr., known as Bishop Benedict, is in Colorado and is to return to Texas to answer arrest warrants served Saturday at the Christ of the Hills Monastery, a 105-acre compound about 3 miles southwest of here.

Fifteen monks and three residents live at the religious community, annually visited by thousands of people who go there to see an icon that reportedly weeps myrrh.

Officials there called allegations against two monks “false.”

Jonathan I. Hitt, 37, was jailed Saturday in Johnson City at Blanco County Jail, where he remained in lieu of a $500,000 bond. His religious name is Father Jeremiah.

Bond for Greene also is expected to be set at $500,000, Elsbury said.

Indecency with a child is a second-degree felony, which carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The two men were charged with molesting a teen-aged boy, whose name and age authorities refused to release.

“He was a ward of the monastery when the incidents happened,” Elsbury said.

Texas Ranger Tommy Ratliff and investigator Henry Nolan with the district attorney’s office in Burnet assisted in the investigation and execution of the arrest warrants.

Father George Larin, dean of the New York Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, accompanied law enforcement officials to the monastery Saturday.

Neither suspect was found during the surprise visit by officers, the sheriff said. Saturday evening, Hitt, accompanied by his attorney, Luis Vera of San Antonio, surrendered to deputies in Johnson City.

Vera said he has filed a writ of habeas corpus that asks state District Judge Gil Jones to reduce Hitt’s bond. A hearing is set for Friday at 3 p.m. at the Blanco County courthouse in Johnson City.

“Father Jeremiah has no previous criminal record, not even a traffic ticket,” Vera said. “I’m going to ask for a personal-recognizance bond.”

The attorney said he will also seek an examining trial to find out what probable cause officials have against Hitt.

“A sexual crime of any kind is the easiest charge to be made by anyone,” Vera said. “You don’t need physical or medical evidence. All you have to say is, ‘It happened to me,’ and the state goes from there.”

In a search of the monastery Saturday, officers seized three boxes of video tapes, but the sheriff said they hadn’t yet been reviewed.

At the monastery Tuesday, Father Pangratios disputed the allegations.

“It’s a very sad situation,” he said. “People are unable to face the problems within themselves, so they strike out at people who are trying to help them. We have no animosity against the people who made these allegations.”

Pangratios said the bishop has been in Colorado since last fall when he left for higher altitudes to help combat congestive heart problems.