On the eve of his ordination two years ago, the Rev. James Michael Taylor spoke of the abuse scandal that rocked the clergy beginning in the early 2000s, just before his conversion to Catholicism.
“You learn that the frailties of the human condition exist even in the priesthood,” Taylor told The Evangelist, the official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. “There’s something greater to Catholicism than its members. For some reason, I was able to see, ‘This [crisis] isn’t the faith.’ ”
On Wednesday morning, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department announced that Taylor, a Niskayuna priest formerly assigned to Corpus Christi Church in Clifton Park, had been arrested the day before, charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl.
Taylor, 30, commonly known as “Father Michael,” is charged with endangering the welfare of a minor, a misdemeanor. Authorities continue to investigate, and said there may be additional victims that could lead to more charges.
The alleged conduct occurred between October and earlier this month, Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo said at a Wednesday news conference in Ballston Spa. Zurlo said the priest “engaged in an ongoing course of inappropriate conduct with a 15-year-old Clifton Park female involving physical contact, telephone calls, text messaging and photos.”
Taylor met the 15-year-old while serving as a deacon and youth minister at Corpus Christi, and the contact continued after he was assigned as parochial vicar at Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Niskayuna, police said.
Taylor was immediately suspended from his current position, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese said. The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha parish was formed when Our Lady of Fatima and St. Helen’s merged in July 2012. Taylor gave police the parish’s Union Street church address in Niskayuna as his home address.
Court papers make clear the alleged conduct was sexual.
“James Michael Taylor, while in a position of authority as a Catholic priest, did subject the victim to sexual contact as well as engage in a repeated course of conduct involving inappropriate text messages, pictures and phone calls,” sheriff’s Investigator Courtney Salaway wrote in a complaint filed in Clifton Park Town Court.
Endangering the welfare of a child is defined as “knowingly acting in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than 17 years old.”
District Attorney James A. Murphy III said there’s no indication at this point of the kind of forced sexual contact that could lead to a felony charge. “It is a course-of-conduct charge,” he said. “She is 15, he is 30. Rather than a sexual offense, we believe at this point that this is the appropriate charge.”
Authorities wouldn’t disclose contents of the text messages or details of the physical contact.
A woman who answered the door at parish offices off Rosa Road said all media inquiries were to be directed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. The diocese said in a statement it informed law enforcement of a complaint against a priest on Monday.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany notified law enforcement authorities in Saratoga County Monday afternoon immediately after receiving a complaint concerning a diocesan priest and his alleged contact with a minor,” read the diocese statement, which went on to note Taylor was placed on administrative leave after his arraignment.
“The Albany Diocese will cooperate fully with the investigation,” the diocese statement continued. “Sexual abuse is a crime and an egregious sin, and the Albany Diocese has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of children by clerics. Any priest or deacon against whom an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is substantiated at any time is permanently removed from ministry.”
A diocese spokesman declined an interview request for newly installed Bishop Edward Scharfenberger.
Taylor was arraigned before Clifton Park Town Justice James Hughes and released without bail. He is to return to court on May 14.
Because the charge is a misdemeanor — punishable by no more than one year in jail — the case will remain in the local court for disposition, Murphy said. That could change if anyone comes forward to allege felony conduct; then the case would move to County Court.
Murphy said there’s at least one other potential victim police are talking to, and the Sheriff’s Department wants to hear from anyone else who may have had inappropriate contact with Taylor.
At the time of Taylor’s ordination, news reports stated he is originally from Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia, completing Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) requirements. He was a captain in the Army at the time he became a priest. He also studied theology at Siena College and Mundelein Seminary at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Chicago.
Authorities are still working out where he previously served and when, but the Evangelist article when he was ordained listed prior service at St. Peter’s in Saratoga Springs, Blessed Sacrament in Albany and St. Jude’s in Wynantskill.