Suspended Priest Charged with Molesting Boy, 9
Suspended Priest Charged with Molesting Boy, 9

By Glenn Smith
Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
May 31, 2002

A suspended Roman Catholic priest was charged Thursday with sexually molesting a 9-year-old boy 25 years ago in the rectory of a West Ashley church.

A man now in his mid-30s told investigators that Monsignor Thomas Austin Evatt climbed in bed with him and undressed him while he was an overnight guest at St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard in 1977. Evatt is accused of pulling the boy on top of him and rubbing himself against the boy, according to an arrest affidavit.

Evatt, 52, of Anderson, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a minor. Magistrate Jack Guedalia set bail at $10,000 surety and $50,000 personal recognizance.

Andy Savage, Evatt's attorney, would not speak to the priest's guilt or innocence, saying he had not discussed the allegations with his client. But Savage blasted the Diocese of Charleston, accusing church officials of "folding under pressure" to a nationwide sexual abuse scandal and "throwing one of their own to the wolves."

Savage said church officials confronted Evatt with the allegations while he was recovering from a heart condition that twice left him hospitalized. He was questioned, suspended from the priesthood and set adrift without legal counsel, he said.

"In a written statement, the diocese said it stood by its actions, saying church officials had closely followed a 1994 policy adopted to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors. Among other things, the policy requires church officials to investigate an allegation immediately and report the information to authorities if the allegation is deemed credible.

"We follow our policy without exception," said John Carroll, a diocese spokesman.

The alleged victim reported the incident to the diocese on May 15. The diocese looked into the complaint and reported the allegations to the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office on May 24. Bishop Robert J. Baker suspended Evatt from his priestly duties on May 18. Evatt resigned the same day, citing health reasons, Carroll said.

Evatt surrendered to Charleston County sheriff's deputies shortly before a 3 p.m. bail hearing Thursday. Dressed in a gray blazer, a shirt and tie, he said little during the hearing and did not respond to reporters' questions as he was led into the county jail.

Evatt worked at the West Ashley church during the first half of 1977. He then worked at seven other South Carolina churches before landing at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken in 1994.

Savage presented the judge with a thick binder containing nearly 150 letters and e-mails of support for Evatt. He asked for a low bail, saying Evatt is in frail health and has an income of $1,600 a month. Savage said he was representing Evatt at no charge.

The alleged victim did not appear at the hearing, but his attorney, Walter Ameika, asked the judge to set a monetary bail on Evatt and bar the priest from contacting his client. Guedalia did so.

After the hearing, Joseph Norris, who is letting Evatt stay at his Anderson home, said he could not accept the allegations against his friend of 47 years.

"He is one of the holiest men and one of the gentlest men I know," he said.


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