Retired Minister Accused Aiken Monsignor Is Suspended after Abuse Allegations

By Greg Rickabaugh
Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
May 29, 2002

The man who stepped forward this month to accuse an Aiken Catholic priest of sexually assaulting him as a youngster told investigators Tuesday that he wanted to prevent others from being victimized.

The unidentified man made the allegations May 15, saying Monsignor Thomas A. Evatt abused him at age 9 or 10 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Charleston, S.C., said Debbie Herring-Lash of the Solicitor's Office in Charleston.

Monsignor Evatt, 52, worked at St. Joseph for less than a year in 1977 and ]served at eight churches throughout South Carolina before arriving in Aiken at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in 1994.

"If there are other potential victims, he wanted to stop him at this point," Mrs. Herring-Lash said.

This is the only public allegation to be made against Monsignor Evatt, who was ordained Dec. 18, 1976. The allegation remains under investigation, Mrs. Herring-Lash said.

After the allegations surfaced, Bishop Robert J. Baker called Monsignor Evatt to meet with him in Charleston. Soon after, the monsignor resigned from the church, citing health reasons.

Church members were informed during Sunday services and were asked to pray for the alleged victim and Monsignor Evatt.

On Tuesday, Bishop Baker announced his suspension.

"The Diocese of Charleston has received an allegation of sexual misconduct dating back more than 20 years against Msgr. Thomas Evatt," said a statement released Tuesday. "Based upon the receipt of this allegation and following diocesan policy, Bishop Baker suspended his faculties pending further investigation."

The suspension prohibits him from wearing priestly garb, publicly celebrating Mass or functioning as a priest, diocese spokesman John Carroll said. In addition, Bishop Baker restricted the monsignor from unsupervised contact with minors or from counseling minors.

"Bishop Baker is shocked and saddened by the news," Mr. Carroll said. "To compromise the safety of a child is one too many."

Monsignor Evatt has left his living quarters at the Aiken parish and is living with a friend in an undisclosed location, Mr. Carroll said. His attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, did not return telephone messages left Tuesday at his office.

The alleged victim, now in his mid-30s, met with Charleston County sheriff's Detective Billy Crews and Mrs. Herring-Lash on Tuesday, the first time he has talked to law enforcement about his allegation. The man had originally called the Diocese of Charleston, who forwarded his accusation to the Solicitor's Office, Mr. Carroll said.

During his meeting Tuesday, the man said he was abused on one occasion while he was a child attending St. Joseph. He said he wanted to prosecute the monsignor and stop any future abuse, Mrs. Herring-Lash said.

The allegations against the Aiken priest come as the Catholic church is bombarded with sexual abuse allegations against its priests. The pope recently convened a meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops to discuss the scandal and how the church is handling it.

The Diocese of Charleston is following a policy it created in 1994 by cooperating with law enforcement and offering counseling to anyone involved, Mr. Carroll said. He said anyone needing help is asked to call the victim assistance minister at (800) 204-7955.

"Our policy is if we receive an allegation that is deemed credible, we report it to authorities, remove the accused from the ministry, and reach out with offers of pastoral care and counseling for the victim and the accused," Mr. Carroll said.

An incident report on the man's allegations is expected to be released as early as today by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.


Feb. 1994-May 2002, pastor, St. Mary Help of Christians, Aiken

1991-1994, pastor, Our Lady of the Rosary, Greenville

1989-1991, pastor, Stella Maris, Sullivan's Island

1988-1989, pastor, St. Mary, Summerton

1986-1988, pastor, Precious Blood of Christ, Pawley's Island

1982-1986, pastor, St. Cyprian, Georgetown; administrator of missions in Andrews and McClellanville

1979-1982, associate, Prince of Peace, Taylors

1977-1979, associate, St. Joseph, Columbia

Jan. 10, 1977, began ministry with St. Joseph, Charleston

Dec. 18, 1976, ordained as a minister


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