Blanco Ponders Monastery Scandal

By Zeke MacCormack
July 27, 2006

BLANCO — With most of its monks incarcerated, the nearly deserted Christ of the Hills Monastery was left to pets and journalists Wednesday.

Its famed "weeping icon" was seized with computers and other evidence Tuesday by law enforcement officers who also arrested three of the four monks living at the enclave on charges of sexual assault of a child and organized crime.

Also indicted Monday were the monastery's founder, Sam A. Greene Jr., who's been staying in Austin because of poor health, and Jonathan Hitt, a former monk already serving time for a separate abuse conviction.

Doors on offices and homes at the vacant monastery were unlocked. Some stood open.

Meanwhile, in nearby Blanco, residents read news accounts and traded rumors about the latest scandal to envelop the mysterious men in black who opened the monastery outside town in 1981.

"It's very disturbing," said Sue McMahan, 60, during a visit to the post office. But, she said, "It's not unique to Blanco. This stuff goes on everywhere."

It went on here before.

Greene, 61, and Hitt, 45, were convicted of indecency with a novice monk in the late 1990s. Greene pleaded guilty and accepted a term of 10 years' probation in 2000 after seeing Hitt convicted in 1999. Hitt received a 10-year prison term.

The latest complaint was filed by a man who claims years of sexual abuse by those indicted Monday began shortly after he arrived as a 15-year-old novice monk in 1993, according to Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury.

But Anglican Catholic priest Tom Flower, a longtime friend of Greene and former monastery resident, said he doesn't believe the alleged confession police said Greene made or claims of sexual abuse.

"I went there year after year and I never observed anything like that going on," said Flower, 74, who runs Blessed Martin de Porres Urban Mission a street church in San Antonio.

Fearful about theft or vandalism at the monastery, he plans to take up residence there today and to stay as long as necessary.

Although the monastery is in peril, he predicts it will recover.

"It's survived so many ups and downs over the years, including a lot of persecution from the people in that town, that God must have some purpose for it," he said.

However, monastery critics such as Melanie Sakoda see the devil's hand at work and cheered the Tuesday morning police raid.

"I hope this round will shut down that hellhole permanently," said an e-mail from Sakoda, who helps run a California company,, that tracks clergy abuse and advises victims.

Elsbury said investigators were led to the latest complainant by Greene, who he said told his probation officer last July that he'd abused many boys he'd met at various camps and social organizations since the 1970s.

Elsbury said Greene also was recorded saying that the weeping icon, a picture of the Virgin Mary that purportedly cried tears of rose oil, is a fraud.

That claim led to the involvement of the Postal Service police and the Internal Revenue Service because the monastery raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from "pilgrims" who visited the icon or sent money with prayer requests by mail.

Also charged Monday was the monastery's abbot, William E. Hughes, 55, aka Father Vasili Walter P. Christley, 44, aka Father Pagratios and Hugh Brian Fallon, 40, aka Father Tihkon, said Elsbury.

Greene was released Tuesday on a personal recognizance bond. The other defendants are each being held under $250,000 bonds. They are slated for arraignment Monday.


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