Blanco monks face sex assault charges; faked weeping icon
- Blanco monks face sex assault charges
Web Posted: 07/26/2006 02:35 AM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
BLANCO A bid by Samuel Greene Jr. to clear his
conscience instead implicated the controversial
founder of Christ of the Hills Monastery and four
followers in alleged sexual assaults of two boys there
in the 1990s, authorities say.
Dozens of local, state and federal investigators swept
into the religious enclave at dawn Tuesday with
indictments returned Monday and a warrant to search
the 105-acre site for evidence of sexual misconduct,
said Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a complete fraud," he
said of the monastery that opened in 1981 and housed a
so-called "weeping icon" that once attracted thousands
of pilgrims each week.
An affidavit filed in support of a search warrant
quotes Greene, who's on probation for indecency with a
novice monk in 1997, as admitting he'd molested untold
numbers of boys since the 1970s.
The new charges concern another former novice monk who
claims he regularly was assaulted starting in 1993 by
Greene, aka "Father Benedict," and the other four who
The affidavit by Deputy William Smith says Greene
justified the alleged abuse and believed "the boys
enjoy the sexual activity and that he is actually
helping to guide and direct otherwise troubled
It says Greene, 61, rationalized his past conduct by
saying "the reason he was able to avoid criminal
charges all these years was that God was on his side."
Before opening the Eastern Orthodox Christian
monastery in 1981, Greene was known around San Antonio
for his colorful real estate 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 in
as much as $750,000 some years.
The raid capped a yearlong investigation which is
still ongoing that Elsbury said unfolded amid tight
secrecy due to fears that evidence might be destroyed
or that investigators could face resistance if word
"The monks were totally surprised," District Attorney
Sam Oatman said by cell phone from the site Tuesday
"We're taking the icon into custody as we speak, as a
criminal instrument, as part of the fraud that we're
investigating for grand jury presentation," he said.
Elsbury said deputies tracked down two former novice
monks named by Greene as victims last year in an
interview with his probation officer, Wynn Stevenson.
The affidavit says the men, whose names are not being
released, confirmed being sexually abused by Greene
and other monks as boys.
"A1 in his recorded statement described actual orgy
situations," says the affidavit, referring to the
Ironically, Elsbury said, Greene gave the
incriminating statement in an effort to reassure
Stevenson he was abiding by the terms of his
Elsbury said Greene was asked to take a polygraph
test, and failed, last July in the wake of reports
never substantiated that he'd been around kids while
"His claim to his probation officer is that he had not
reviolated, but what was causing the bad (polygraph)
result was the guilt from all the things he had done
in the past," Elsbury said. "(Stevenson) said, 'OK,
purge yourself and we'll retake the test. Get it off
Stevenson secretly recorded the interview in which
Greene admitted molestations dating back to the 1970s,
Besides naming the two boys tracked down by
investigators, Elsbury said Greene confirmed
suspicions that the picture of the Virgin Mary that
was said to weep tears of rose oil was a fake.
"The whole thing is going to be exposed as a sham,"
the sheriff said. "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."
The indictments returned Monday evening by a specially
convened grand jury concern only one boy's complaint.
The arrests may mark the final chapter for the
troubled religious community that once bustled with
visitors and 14 monks but has taken on the feel of a
ghost town of late.
About 35 law enforcement personnel converged on the
dusty hilltop monastery at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday,
including local deputies, several Texas Rangers,
evidence technicians from the Department of Public
Safety and agents of the U.S. Postal Service and the
Internal Revenue Service.
Federal authorities were involved since donations to
the weeping icon were solicited over the internet and
through the mail.
Elsbury said Greene was convalescing in Austin from a
recent car wreck when charged Tuesday with sexual
assault of a child, organized crime and sexual
performance by a child.
Arrested without incident at the monastery was its
abbott, William E. Hughes, 55, aka "Father Vasili,"
Walter P. Christley, 44, aka "Father Pagratios," and
Hugh Brian Fallon, 40, aka "Father Tihkon," each
charged with organized crime and sexual assault of a
child, Elsbury said.
Also indicted on those charges was Jonathan Hitt, 45,
aka "Father Jeremiah," who's serving a 10-year
sentence for abusing the same boy that Greene pleaded
guilty to abusing in 2000.
Bond was set at $250,000 each, but due to health
issues, Greene was released on a personal recognizance
bond. Arraignment was set for July 31.
An elderly ward of the monks was transferred to a
nursing home, and one monk, identified as Father
Moses, was not implicated in the investigation and was
allowed to remain at the monastery.
Many locals had expressed their doubts about the
weeping icon and the bearded, black-robed monks who
largely kept to themselves.
The monks had reacted to Hitt's jury conviction by
saying he'd been falsely accused by a novice who'd
proven his untruthfulness in his years at the
monastery. They cast Greene's guilty plea as a gambit
by an innocent man to avoid prison.
To casual observers, the sordid episode closed in 2002
when the former novice's lawsuit against the monastery
was settled for about $1 million.
But Elsbury said his own suspicions never subsided.
"We kept a constant look at these individuals," he
said Tuesday. "It was a matter of us believing that
there's criminal activity ongoing out there."
Doubts about the monks were fueled by the arrest there
in 2004 of Gary Sabino, who was wanted in Florida on
child molestation charges. The monks claimed not to
know why Sabino, an acquaintance of a past monastery
resident, had chosen to take refuge there.
Vasili contended the whole monastery had unfairly been
cast under a cloud of suspicion due to the misdeeds of
"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 Sabino.
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