S.C. Priest Suspended, Investigated
Priest Accused of Assault 25 Years Ago in West Ashley

By Glenn Smith
Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
May 30, 2002

Charleston County authorities are investigating allegations that a Roman Catholic priest sexually assaulted a 9-year-old boy 25 years ago at a West Ashley church.

Bishop Robert J. Baker suspended Monsignor Thomas Austin Evatt, 52, from his priestly duties pending the outcome of the investigation, said John Carroll, a diocese spokesman. Evatt most recently worked at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.

A man now in his mid-30s told authorities that Evatt sexually assaulted him at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard, according to a police report. The incident was said to have occurred sometime between January and June of 1977 when the boy was an overnight guest of the priest, the report stated.

Evatt, who was ordained in December 1976, worked at the West Ashley church during the first half of 1977, Carroll said. He then worked at seven other South Carolina churches before landing in Aiken in 1994, he said.

The alleged victim reported the incident to the diocese on May 15. After looking into the credibility of the complaint, the diocese notified the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office on Friday, Carroll said.

Baker suspended Evatt on May 18. The priest resigned the same day, citing health reasons, Carroll said. Evatt is barred from dressing as a priest in public, publicly celebrating Mass or functioning as a priest. He is also restricted from_unsupervised contact with minors and counseling minors, he said.

"Bishop Baker is shocked and saddened at the allegations," he said. "He has said that even one_instance where a child is harmed or abused is one instance too many."

The diocese has acknowledged that it has received another_23 complaints against priests_since the 1960s. Eleven of those priests have been removed_from the ministry. The other 12 have died, retired or are no longer in active ministry, Carroll has said.

Assistant Solicitor Debbie Herring-Lash said she and an investigator from the solicitor's office interviewed Evatt's accuser on Tuesday. The Charleston County Sheriff's Office began investigating Wednesday, said Capt. Dana Valentine, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.

Evatt has left his living quarters at the Aiken parish and is staying at an unknown location, Carroll said.

Andy Savage, Evatt's attorney, said he could not comment on the case because the diocese had not returned his phone calls or provided any documentation from the investigation


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