JOHNSON CITY, Texas – Four monks — three appearing in court Monday — have pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault of a child and organized criminal activity at a monastery in the Texas Hill Country.
The monks were among five charged last week after authorities raided the Christ of the Hills Monastery, near Blanco, in search of "instruments of child abuse," according to Blanco County District Attorney Sam Oatman.
Monastery founder Samuel Greene, who was released on personal recognizance due to health problems, waived his right to an arraignment and did not appear in court but has pleaded not guilty, Oatman said.
The fifth man charged, Jonathan Hitt, 45, is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted in 1999 of indecency with a 14-year-old novice monk studying at the monastery in 1997. Oatman said Hitt has not entered a plea on the new charges.
Greene, 61, who also is charged with one count of sexual performance of a child, pleaded guilty six years ago to indecency with the same novice monk from the Hitt case and was sentenced to 10 years probation.
The recent indictments relate to one boy, a teenager at the time, allegedly assaulted at the monastery between Austin and San Antonio for a period beginning in 1993.
The three in court Monday were shackled and wearing orange jumpsuits. Walter Christley, who turns 45 Tuesday, Hugh Fallon, 40, and William Hughes, 55, did not have lawyers. Christley and Hughes said they plan to hire attorneys, and Fallon wants the court to appoint him one.
Oatman said a second alleged victim has come forward, and others could follow.
"We've got a lot of evidence," he said.
Oatman has said there also could be charges brought relating to the monastery's big draw, an image of the Virgin Mary that's been said to cry tears of myrrh, a sign of divine intervention. The icon has brought in thousands of visitors and their donations for years, but some have questioned the authenticity of the resinous material.
Father Thomas Flower, of the Blessed Martin de Porres Urban Mission in San Antonio, said he is taking care of the monastery for now.
"I've been affiliated with the monastery before it was a monastery. I have not, I absolutely have not" seen anything going on at the monastery that the men are charged with, Flower said.
Flower said he used to travel with a monk who was once affiliated with the monastery.
"He would have told me if things like that were going on," Flower said.