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Sex Charges Shadow a Local Curiosity in Texas

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://ktla.trb.com/news/la-na-monks5sep05,0,1074643.story?coll=ktla-news-1 Sex Charges Shadow a Local Curiosity in Texas Five monks at the Christ of the Hills
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2006

      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
      the boy.

      "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
      press charges.

      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.

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