Sex Charges Shadow a Local Curiosity in Texas
Sex Charges Shadow a Local Curiosity in Texas
Five monks at the Christ of the Hills Monastery are accused of abusing
boys. Police also say the church's famous crying icon was `a scam.'
By Lianne Hart, Times Staff Writer
September 5, 2006
BLANCO, Texas Pilgrims by the thousands have navigated the winding roads
to Christ of the Hills Monastery for more than 20 years to witness a
miracle, a painting of the Virgin Mary said to weep rose-scented tears.
Now five of the order's monks are under indictment, charged with sexually
assaulting boys; the tearful icon has apparently been exposed as a fake;
and lawyers for the state have moved to take possession of the 105-acre
compound, calling it "contraband" used during the commission of felonies.
"That wasn't a church," Blanco County Sheriff William Elsbury said
recently. "It was a pedophile factory."
In the farming community of Blanco, about five miles northeast of the
monastery, residents had always had their doubts about the monks. "Maybe it
was because you didn't have proof, just a feeling that something was
wrong," resident Amy Elrod said. "They were out of town just enough to
where it wasn't right in front of you."
But the Virgin Mary brought tourist dollars into town, and no one here
raised much of a fuss even after a 14-year-old said in 1999 that two
monks had abused him two years earlier. Those monks, both of whom are
accused in the current case, were found to have committed indecency with
"You suspected more of them were involved, but they didn't get caught until
now," gift shop owner Charlene Pace said. "They didn't seem like real
monks. It was creepy."
In July, the monastery's founder, Samuel Alexander Greene Jr., 62, was
charged with felonies including sexual assault of a child starting in 1993,
money laundering and fraud. Also charged are William Edward Hughes, 55;
Walter Paul Christley, 44; Hugh Brian Fallon, 40; and Jonathan Irving Hitt, 45.
Greene and Hitt were the two involved in the indecency case. Hitt was
convicted in 1999 and is serving 10 years in prison; Greene, who has
congestive heart failure, pleaded guilty in 2000 in a deal for 10 years'
The alleged victims in the current case, then ages 15 and 16, had been
receiving religious training at the monastery.
According to court documents, the boys were given drugs and alcohol and
instructed to perform oral sex or participate in orgies.
Four of the monks have pleaded not guilty. Hitt has not yet entered a plea.
A onetime real estate pitchman, Greene set up the monastery in 1981. When
investigators raided the enclave in 1999, Elsbury said, they found about 10
firearms and "a liquor cabinet to rival the governor's" in Greene's
trailer. "They claimed to live a monastic lifestyle, but a select group of
six or eight lived like kings, while the rest were in dirty sandals and
looked like they ate grasshoppers," he said.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia which had accepted the
monastery in 1991 cut ties with the monks in 1999.
According to the court papers in the current case, Greene implicated
himself and his fellow monks: When he failed a lie-detector test meant to
monitor his behavior on probation he is forbidden to have contact with
children Greene said it was because he felt guilty about previous
actions. Greene then described episodes of abuse, naming monks and boys,
the court documents say. Two of those he identified as victims agreed to
The brothers of Christ of the Hills Monastery with their long hair,
scraggly beards and black robes had been a curiosity in Blanco for years.
They came into town, bought groceries, kept to themselves and said little.
Residents said they had often seen the monks at the post office opening
mail and putting charitable donations into haphazard piles.
The attached notes were sometimes thrown in the trash unread, Pace said.
"They seemed very interested in the money," she said.
But with the arrests, the fact that the painting's tears were faked cannot
be denied, Elsbury said.
"It's a scam. They would go in there at different times out of public view
and place tears on there with an eyedropper," the sheriff said. "They got a
lot of people snowed."
In July's raid, authorities recovered a bottle of rosewater and bags of
cotton balls the raw materials for souvenirs that were sold as tears that
had dripped from the painting. Each cotton ball carried a $3 price tag.
The monastery complex is deserted now. Outside the double-wide that was
Greene's living quarters, empty wine and beer bottles lie scattered. A
silvery spire atop a small church glints in the sun. St. Anna's Cafe,
advertising espresso, juice and snacks, is shuttered.
But a small open-air shrine near the monastery exit still offers the
faithful an opportunity to pray and make a donation. A glass bowl is
filled with pennies. Prayers scrawled in ink cover a wooden shelf. Some are
specific: "Help my husband stop drinking please. Amen"; others are a simple
plea "Por Favor."
Pace hopes the latest scandal will shut the doors of Christ of the Hills
for good. "They're a blight on our pretty little town," she said.