Nestled on 2,200 acres in the hills of Nelson County, the 166-year-old Abbey of Gethsemani is known for its peace and tranquility.
But now the oldest operating monastery in America, where 42 monks live, work and pray seven times a day, is roiled by controversy.
The Abbey has accused one of its lay employees, an accountant, of embezzling what could total tens of thousands of dollars or more from its mail-order business — while he says he is being falsely accused after blowing the whistle on monks he says engaged in sexual affairs behind the monastery’s walls.
Detective Jason Allison of the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed he has been investigating theft allegations against accountant John Hutchins and will present a case against him Wednesday at the county grand jury in Bardstown.
Allison said he is aware of Hutchins’ cover-up claims but says they are irrelevant to his investigation.
“Nothing he’s talking about has anything to do with money,” Allison said. “I will show how much money was taken, how it was taken and where it was spent.”
The monastery’s lawyer, Kevin Ford, denied any connection between the embezzlement allegations and Hutchins’ reporting of alleged sexual affairs at the abbey.
Abbot Elias Dietz, the monastery’s spiritual leader and president of Gethsemani Farms, its mail-order business, said in an email Monday that the abbey has cooperated fully with authorities and does not comment on pending criminal investigations.