Police raid monastery, accuse 5 monks of sexual assault

Author: Zeke MacCormack
Date Published: 07/25/2006
Tom Reel/Express-News:  William E. Hughes, a monk at the Christ of the Hills Monastery, is led into the Blanco County Jail on Tuesday, July 25.
Tom Reel/Express-News: William E. Hughes, a monk at the Christ of the Hills Monastery, is led into the Blanco County Jail on Tuesday, July 25.

Dozens of law enforcement officers raided the Christ of the Hills Monastery outside Blanco this morning, armed with indictments that accuse five monks of sexually assaulting a boy there around 1993, officials said.

Samuel A. Greene Jr., the monastery’s founder who’s on probation after pleading guilty in 2000 to nine counts of indecency with a novice monk, was among those charged with sexual assault of a child and engaging in organized crime relating to the assault, Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury said.

The current investigation began a year ago when Greene, 61, reportedly admitted that he’d sexually assaulted several children more than a decade ago at the religious enclave southwest of Blanco that is famous for its so-called weeping icon, Elsbury said.

Thousands of weekly “pilgrims” once flocked to the duty hilltop monastery to view the picture of the Virgin Mary that was said to cry tears of rose oil.

Many left donations and prayer requests. Still others mailed money to the monastery and were sent back small cotton balls soaked in the icon’s “tears.”

But Elsbury said Greene, aka “Father Benedict” has also admitted that the icon is a fraud. That information led Elsbury to call the Postal inspectors and Internal Revenue Service investigators into the current case.

“The whole thing is going to be exposed as a sham,” said Elsbury. “They just put the tear drops on there themselves and then got all these people making donations trying to
get some kind of miracle cure.”

He was enroute to Austin on Tuesday morning to serve the indictment against Greene, who also faces one count of sexual performance with a child, at a convalescent home where he’s recovering from injuries sustained in a
recent car accident.

Before the accident, Greene had lived at the monastery but
was in poor health after a series of strokes.

Also charged in the Monday indictments was Walter Paul Christley, 44, and Hugh Brian Fallon, 40, on the sexual assault and organized crime charges.

Jonathan Hitt, formerly known as “Father Jeremiah,” who is serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted at trial in 1999 of indecency with the same novice monk that Greene admitted abusing , also has been charged with sexual assault and organized crime.

A suit brought by the youth against the monastery was settled in 2002 for nearly $1 million.

The sordid revelations aired during the criminal trial of Hitt and the civil trial led to a sharp decline in the patronage and finances at the monastery that once was home to 14 monks.

It received more bad press in 2004 when a man wanted in Florida on child molestation charges was found living at the monastery.

The monastery’s abbott, William E. Hughes, also known as Father Vasili, claimed he’d have called police if he’d learned of his guest’s fugitive status during his 20-month stay.

Hughes, 55, was among those arrested Tuesday, Elsbury said.

Before opening the Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery in 1981, Greene was known around San Antonio for his colorful property pitches on television and radio as “Sam the Land Man.”

Drawing on his business expertise, the monastery launched a sophisticated marketing campaign – centered on the weeping icon, that tax records show brought took in as much as $750,000 some years.

Many Blanco County locals were suspicious the black-clad monks who were known at times to drink beers at local watering holes.

Vasili contended that the convictions of Greene and Hitt, and bad press about the monastery, unfairly cast a cloud of suspicion over the remaining monks.

“We do have a hard time and every time someone like you writes one of those articles, it gets worse,” he said after the arrest of the Florida fugitive.

Arraignment for the five men is scheduled for July 31.