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  Ex-Aiken Priest Is Found Dead Monsignor Resigned Last Year Amid Sexual Assault Allegations

By Greg Rickabaugh
Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
July 19, 2003

Monsignor Thomas Evatt, the longtime Aiken Catholic priest who resigned last year amid decades-old allegations of sexual assault, was found dead Friday in his Anderson home. He was 53.

The death was ruled accidental, caused by excessive blood loss after Monsignor Evatt cut his leg on a piece of furniture, according to Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore.

"It looks like he went around the room trying to find something to stop the bleeding," Mr. Shore said. "He lost so much blood, he apparently passed out."

Joseph Norris, the monsignor's roommate and lifelong friend, discovered the body at 10:45 a.m. Friday inside their home on the 2200 block of Ridgewood Avenue, Mr. Shore said. The priest had apparently been dead for several hours, the coroner said.

Monsignor Evatt had been taking several prescribed medications for an enlarged heart and related illnesses. He also began drinking and smoking heavily last year after a man stepped forward to accuse the priest of abusing him as a boy 25 years ago, Mr. Shore said.

"According to his roommate, the accusations had basically killed him," he said. "He was abusing alcohol and cigarettes."

The coroner said alcohol abuse had contributed to his death.

"A normal person wouldn't die from a cut to the leg," he said.

An autopsy was performed Friday because of the excessive amount of blood found in the home. Anderson City police also investigated the death and ruled out foul play, according to Lt. Layton Creamer.

The monsignor's brother, who lives in Greenville, S.C., was notified of the death along with other family members.

Monsignor Evatt resigned from St. Mary Help of Christians church in Aiken in May 2002 after serving eight years. He cited health reasons.

Soon after his departure, Charleston, S.C., police charged him with lewd act on a minor. He was awaiting trial when he died.

Debbie Herring-Lash, of the Solicitor's Office in Charleston, said Friday that the charges would be dismissed. She spent much of Friday trying to get in touch with the alleged victim.

The victim called police in May, telling them he was 9 or 10 when he was an overnight guest of Monsignor Evatt at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Charleston. He said he was assaulted in a church rectory in 1977.

Monsignor Evatt worked at St. Joseph for less than a year in 1977 and served at eight churches throughout South Carolina before arriving in Aiken. The sexual assault allegation was the only public allegation to be made against the priest.

Despite reports that the monsignor confessed to a "singular horrible event," he pleaded not guilty to the felony charge in Charleston court. According to Mr. Shore, the monsignor's roommate said he was looking forward to the upcoming trial so he could clear his name.

 
 

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