First Seen on KXAN: Sordid Accusations Hit Hill County Monastery
KXAN [Blanco TX]
July 26, 2006
There's more information Tuesday night on a criminal case against members of an Austin-area monastery.
The case involves child molestation and what detectives call "organized crime" at the Christ of the Hills Monastery, off County Road 103 in Blanco County. Sexual assault, child pornography, drugs and even mail fraud are alleged to have taken place there.
KXAN spoke with one of the monks facing child sex charges. He says he's getting his strength from God. Cops in Blanco County say that he's going to need it.
Sitting in a wheelchair, charged with sexual assault of a child, organized crime and sexual performance of a child, monk Samuel Greene seems resigned.
"I'm doing the best I can with God's help," Greene said.
Greene is charged, along with other monks at the Christ of the Hills Monastery -- William Hughes, Walter Christley and Hugh Fallon. All face charges of sexual assault of a child and organized crime.
The monastery has been the focus of Sheriff Bill Elsbury for years. He admits that it has always rubbed him the wrong way.
"Sure it does," Elsbury said. "If somebody's exploiting the children, the church, it's a betrayal of trust."
There was one monk left at the monastery Tuesday night, and he's not talking to KXAN. Police tell us they confiscated a lot of evidence from this location, including hard drives, computers and child pornography.
"I don't know whether any of these individuals is a legitimate clergyman or not," said District Attorney Sam Oatman. "We'll find out, but I don't believe they are."
Three of the monks are behind bars on $250,000 bond.
Greene, due to his failing health, will be monitored under intense house arrest. He said that he was surprised that he was arrested.
The fifth suspect, Jonathan Hitt, is already behind bars, serving a 10-year sentence for molestation. Charges stem from incidents reported in the early 90s.
Police believe this has been going on for a long time and say these kids were specifically groomed at the monastery so these kinds of crimes could be committed.
There's also a separate federal investigation underway at the monastery. Those investigators are also trying to gather evidence of wire and mail fraud.
It's connected to a "weeping Virgin Mary" at the compound that visitors have frequented over the years.
"It's just a cover for pedophiles," Elsbury said. "And like I say, I believe we have evidence in hand that will prove that this weeping icon is in fact a fraud, and they have exploited money from people on the pretenses of faith healing."
In years past, the monastery's spiritual leaders, including Walter Christley, appeared devoted to their cause.
"Our life is one of humility, struggle and repentance," Christley said in 2003. "All the penalties that come our way in life come at the hand of a loving God."
For nearly a decade, the church has dealt with rumors and innuendos, and law enforcement was only able to make a couple of cases stick. But now they believe they've found enough evidence for more than one case.
In 1999, a young boy's accusation sent Hitt to prison. Greene received probation.
All the while, followers stood by their leaders.
Now, the monastery faces new accusations of molestation and fraud involving a "weeping icon."
"The property, the way they presented it to the public, and the way they brought children in there to try to teach them involving monastic life," Oatman said, "it was all a fraud as far as I'm concerned."
Once again, the courts could test the faith and validity of this unconventional group.
'I don't know whether it began as a genuine religion, but it has certainly turned into something different now," Oatman said.
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