Blanco monks, church settle sex abuse case

Author: Molly Bloom
Date Published: 12/15/2006

About $500,000 will be paid to man who said he was assaulted repeatedly at monastery.

James Wright Jr.’s parents sent their 15-year-old son to Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco County because he was acting out. They thought the Russian Orthodox monks there would give him spiritual enlightenment and maturity.

Instead, three of the monks sexually abused him over a period of 11 months from 1998 to 1999, according to a suit Wright filed against three of the monks, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the nonprofit Ecumenical Monks Inc., which owns the monastery’s land.

The church, monastery founder Samuel Greene Jr. and monk William Hughes settled with Wright on Wednesday without admitting that they did anything wrong, said Mark Long, Wright’s attorney.

Wright received about $500,000 in the settlement, said Lin Hughes, an attorney for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Monk Walter Christley and Ecumenical Monks Inc. have not settled with Wright, Long said.

The church broke ties with the monastery in 1999 after an earlier criminal investigation into a 13-year-old boy’s claim of abuse by two monks.

Wright says that the monks gave him alcohol and marijuana and that the abuse began in April 1998, when Wright was 16 years old, and continued until he left the monastery in February 1999 at age 17, according to the suit.

Greene, who had sold real estate and run a home for troubled boys near San Antonio, founded the hilltop monastery in 1981 on 105 acres at the end of a dirt road a few miles outside the city of Blanco.

For nearly 20 years, the black-robed monks took in teenagers as novices and welcomed thousands of visitors who came to see a Virgin Mary icon that the monks said wept tears of myrrh.

The monks promoted the icon in mailings and on a Web site, claiming that the tears had cured people of cancer and other illnesses.

In 1999, Greene and monk Jonathan Hitt were arrested and accused of molesting an unnamed 13-year-old boy. Greene got 10 years of probation. Hitt got a 10-year prison sentence, which he is serving.

In his suit, Wright said church officials knew that the monastery violated church policy by accepting novices younger than 18 and failed to protect the boys.

Hughes said church officials were unaware of any sexual abuse allegations before the boy came forward in 1999. The monks ”manipulated and deceived” church leaders just as they did the boys and their families, she said.

The three monks named in Wright’s suit, along with Hitt and monk Hugh Fallon, were indicted in July on charges of sexual assault of a minor and engaging in organized crime related to claims of assault on one 15- or 16-year old victim.

Additional indictments related to Wright’s claims are expected to be issued, Long said.

Wright, who served with the Marines in Iraq, is married with a child and works as a home builder. He has started counseling, Long said.

”He’s doing the best he can,” he said.