Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Derek "Fr. Aidan" Keller and Blanco's Pedophile "Monastery"

After the most recent charges of sexual molestation and fraud levied against Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, Texas, last week, Derek "Fr. Aidan" Keller has presented himself as a fearless critic who suffered for speaking out against the monks. In fact, he encouraged pilgrimages to the Blanco monastery, visited a number of times himself, compared it to the monasteries founded by Sts. Pachomius and Antony, praised its products by name in his work and on his website, and announced events taking place there years after their history of pedophilia was well known.

Last week, Keller claimed on his Yahoo group Occidentalis that he and his former monastery were "vilified as Non-Orthodox," because they dared to tell people they disbelieved Blanco's weeping icon "while all the canonical jurisdictions in Texas sent their pilgrims there (often, by the busload)." He concludes his rehearsed righteous outrage with faux repentance designed to showcase his humility: "Pardon me if I get a little hot-headed when it comes to the exploitation of vulnerable persons--it gets me indignant and feeling a bit fierce. Lord, have mercy." The truth is another matter.

Although community figures report suspicions going back years -- and Blanco's founder reportedly confessed to molesting children since the 1970s -- authorities first pressed molesation charges against Samuel A. ("Fr. Benedict") Greene and Jonathan Irving ("Fr. Jeremiah") Hitt in January 1999. ROCOR, which had reportedly suspended the monks sometime the previous year, expelled the monastery that spring for refusing to comply with its directives. According to the Austin American-Statesman -- dated seven years ago today, August 2, 1999 -- the trial began that August, with the pair facing nine felony counts of molesting a 13-year-old novice who stayed at the monastery.

Three weeks later, Keller sent out a message to the OrthodoxWest Yahoo group inviting people to come to his Austin monastery -- and Blanco.

Please pray for our monastery, and what's more, come and visit some time. You will see the Western services the way they were done by the Orthodox Christians of England a thousand years ago. Also, the monasteries of Christ of the Hills and the Athonite Holy Archangels are nearby, here in the Texan Thebaid.

The Thebaid was home to monasteries founded by Sts. Pachomius and Antony the Great.

Keller did not mention while soliciting his pilgrims that two Blanco monks were being tried for sexual molestation -- even though the predators were still living at the monastery at the time.

We know at least one of the male visitors to Keller's monastery did, indeed, visit Blanco, as well.

A jury convicted Hitt of indecency with a minor on Oct. 27, 1999, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. In late February 2000, Greene confessed to molesting the boy in return for 10 years probation and a $10,000 fine. However, reports of molestation were so numerous and so credible that Sheriff Bill Elsbury says the original investigation he launched in early 1999 "never ceased."

Neither did Keller's association with Blanco. In March 2001, he announced a funeral of an abbot that was to take place at the "monastery." On June 26, 2001, Keller reported, "Yesterday Theophan (of OW List fame) and I travelled out to the monastery in Blanco, Texas, to do a pannykhida." He mentions a discussion with one of Blanco's residents. It would appear he had been to Blanco many times before, as he seems to know the exact drive time from his Pseudodox monastery to that in Blanco: "It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the Blanco monastery from our monastery in Austin, Texas." (He noted he also celebrated an office from Orthodox Prayers of Old England at Blanco.) He has also shown familiarity with their leadership under convicted child molestor Demetrios G. "Bp. Pangratios" Vrionis, the man Al Green writes ordained the Milan Synod's Dennis "Bishop Kyrill" Esposito.

If it was not his first trip, neither was it his last. After announcing a different funeral at Blanco in 2000, he mentions returning for the annual memorial in November 2001 and 2002. In a message mentioning a trip to Blanco posted on January 22, 2003, Keller still makes no indication of any impropriety or fraud taking place at Christ of the Hills.

Meanwhile, Blanco had settled a civil lawsuit brought against it for molestation in February 2002 for $1 million.

Upon this further evidence of guilt, Keller praised the monastery in a publication and online. Keller's monastery quit using his "Old Sarum Rite Missal" in June 2001, so he whipped up two new books to establish himself as a "genuine liturgical expert" in Byzantium: Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: Hierarchical Edition and a similar volume for the Liturgy of St. Basil. Both appeared on his bookstore's website sometime between November 29, 2001, and June 5, 2002. You can see them on the "New Publication" webpage during this period. (You have to scroll down the page, below the ad for "Fragrant Anointing Oils" -- "Suitable for use in church or for the icon corner at home, for anointing oneself and one's family." Only $25 for the 30 oz. size, which "comes in a deluxe blue bottle.") Keller seems to have prefaced both books with the same introduction -- which hails two monasteries convicted or accused of child molestation:

This unique Hierarchical Liturgy book was assembled from books of the Slavic tradition, with textual changes to avoid copyright infringement. Extensive reference was made to "Hierarchical Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom," published by New Sarov Press at Christ of the Hills Monastery, Blanco, Texas, in 1995, as the most complete source available in English for rubrics of the Hierarchical Liturgy. Psalms are from the Psalter According to the Seventy, permission of Holy Transfiguration Monastery...Reference may be had to the New Sarov Press volume to fill in details.

According to ROCOR priest Fr. David Moser, "New Sarov Press was an arm of the 'Christ of the Hills' monastery in Blanco, TX." Holy Transfiguration Monastery is the flagship of the "Holy Orthodox Church of North America" (HOCNA), formed by HTM Archmandrite Panteleimon 20 years ago, as ROCOR began investigating credible allegations of sexual molestation.

Keller, for reasons known best to him, included this hierarchical Byzantine liturgy in his book Orthodox Prayers of Old England, which he is currently selling in the bookstore of his defunct church (though with or without the commendation of those two alleged pedophile "monasteries" I do not know).

Though no other book's introduction was posted online at this time, Keller took the opportunity to praise the works of both these"monasteries" in front of the entire world on his website -- years after the first allegations of molestation surfaced, after convictions and lawsuits demonstrated some of these men had indeed engaged in "exploitation of the vulnerable."

It seems unlikely Keller would not have heard of the troubles at his fellow Texas Orthodox (or, by then, Pseudodox) monastery, which he had visited numerous times, as they were reported extensively in the local Austin media. Had Keller been as worked up as he protests, he could have omitted the reference to Blanco monastery proper, expunged it, or, at a minimum, seen to it this was not posted on his website in front of the entire world. Instead, that commendation of Blanco and the Panteleimonites remained online from 2002 until he left his monastery under a cloud in September/October 2004.During this time (Jan. 2003-Nov. 2004), the monastery housed Gary M. Sabino, a man who had jumped bond in Florida and was later convicted of molesting three young girls over the course of two years. Samuel Greene also lived there, though contact with minors would have been a violation of his parole.

Try as one might, one cannot find this "feisty" man making a single reference to any of Blanco's history of molestation, no commentary on any of the events unfolding at the time, no caveat about the monastery he encouraged others to visit by word and example, no warning to stay away from Greene, no mention online of his belief the "weeping icon" was a fraud -- even when the subject came up -- in short, nothing but effusive praise that has never been retracted and a tourism pitch for the "Texan Thebaid."

Think what you will of his other poor behavior I've recorded in this blog -- and much more I have not -- the fact that he did not whisper a note of caution to anyone about a known site of child molestation should prove the well-being of his flock was not his first concern. That he, as a "hieromonk," was willing to laud and promote these pedophiles should put him forever beyond the pale.

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P.S.: I add here, because I don't know where else to put it: this March, a jury convicted the Blanco monastery's caretaker (for the second time) of stabbing his wife to death on the premises in 1997; the prosecution alleged the "monks" crafted an alibi to cover up his crime.

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