Niskayuna priest fined, removed from ministry for sexual contact with teen

James Michael Taylor, left, leaves Clifton Park Town Court Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Photo by Peter R. Barber/Gazette PhotographerJames Michael Taylor, left, leaves Clifton Park Town Court Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Photo by Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer
James Michael Taylor, left, leaves Clifton Park Town Court Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Photo by Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

James Michael Taylor, left, leaves Clifton Park Town Court Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Photo by Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

By NED CAMPBELL
Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — A Niskayuna priest who pleaded guilty in August to having sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and $255 in surcharges Wednesday in Clifton Park Town Court.

The Rev. James Michael Taylor, 31, who had been suspended as a priest by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany when he was arrested, was removed from the ministry Wednesday by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, according to diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb. This means he may no longer perform any priestly duties.

Taylor, who was convicted of one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child, will receive no jail time or probation for the charge, which is punishable by up to a year in jail.

Town Justice James Hughes also placed a five-year order of protection for the victim, effective immediately, barring Taylor from having any contact with the girl with whom he was accused of having sexual contact while serving as a youth minister at Corpus Christi Church in Clifton Park.

Taylor offered no comment as he briskly left the courtroom. His attorney, Daniel Stewart, previously said Taylor admitted to the charge in part to prevent the girl from having to testify.

Saratoga County Acting District Attorney Karen A. Heggen said Hughes had told prosecutors he was unlikely to order probation for Taylor. She noted that Taylor had a clean criminal record previously and said the $1,000 fine was the maximum amount allowed. He was also ordered to pay a $205 surcharge and to submit to a DNA test, which came with a $50 fee.

“I think the judge is satisfied, given the fact that his sentence includes an order of protection and the fine, and that the interests of justice are served in those regards,” she said.

She said the case was uncommon in that the defendant pleaded guilty to the original charge, rather than a lesser offense.

“There was no plea bargaining as it relates to the charge, so this conviction stands as it would if we had had this case tried, as if the young woman had testified and a jury of citizens from this community [had] determined that he was guilty,” she said.

Taylor, while in a position of authority as a Catholic priest, exchanged “inappropriate text messages, pictures and phone calls,” with the girl, sheriff’s Investigator Courtney Salaway wrote in a complaint filed in Clifton Park Town Court in April.

Heggen said the inappropriate acts also included kissing.

“The judge talked rather passionately, and I concur with him, that this really is a case of a violation of trust,” Heggen said. “The trust of someone who had a significant role in the life of more than one young person but took advantage, in this particular case, of that role of trust, of authority. And it was not because of the fact that he was a priest that this case went forward, but it was because he violated the trust of the individual for whom he was entrusted to take care of, to shepherd and to keep from harm.”

Heggen said the order of protection, which also bars Taylor from having contact with the girl’s family, will not be voided when the girl turns 18.

Taylor, who served as parochial vicar at Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Niskayuna, is on administrative leave as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany conducts its own investigation.

“As a church, our first and most solemn responsibility is to ensure the safety of children,” Scharfenberger said in a news release in August. “As is our policy, the Albany Diocese will await the conclusion of the civil legal proceedings before conducting our own review of the matter.”

Goldfarb said Taylor can no longer function as a priest but technically remains one, because only the Vatican can formally laicize a priest. He did not know if that process has begun or will be started.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Buckley.

Bishop’s statement

The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese released this statement Wednesday night after the Rev. James Michael Taylor was fined for having sexual contact with a teen:

“Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger announced today that Rev. Michael Taylor has been permanently removed from ministry as a result of his inappropriate conduct with a minor. Taylor was convicted in Clifton Park Town Court on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child. He was sentenced today.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has a policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse. No priest, deacon or employee whom the Diocese has reasonable grounds to believe sexually abused anyone at any time is permitted to function as a priest or deacon or to remain in our employ.

“Sexual abuse is a crime, an egregious sin and a threat to our society, and it must not go unreported. Any incidence of sexual abuse or misconduct should be reported to a law enforcement agency for investigation, no matter when it occurred. It is the policy of the Albany Diocese to report allegations of abuse immediately to law enforcement agencies and to cooperate fully with law enforcement investigations, as was done in this case.”

This story originally appeared in The Daily Gazette.