#minorsextrafficking | Ohio Catholic priest faces sex-trafficking charges

FINDLAY, Ohio — A Catholic priest in Northwest Ohio was arrested Tuesday by federal authorities on sex-trafficking charges.

Michael Zacharias, 53, of Findlay, Ohio, is charged with coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion, according to the Cleveland Division of the FBI. He was arrested without incident at his residence by the Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.

Zacharias is the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay. The Blade reports Zacharias presided over a 7 a.m. Mass at the church before his arrest. He has been placed on administrative leave by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.  

“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” Toledo Diocese Bishop Daniel Thomas said in a statement. “The Church cannot and will not tolerate any such behavior and takes any sexual abuse or misconduct on the part of a cleric with the utmost seriousness. As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”

According to the FBI, Zacharias has engaged in sexual conduct with minors since the late 1990s and that he “groomed” victims for possible future sexual purposes. The FBI is asking anyone who might have been a victim to contact investigators at 216-622-6842.

The FBI said he previously worked at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo, St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert and St. Ann and St. Joseph Parishes in Fremont. He was ordained in 2002.

The Blade reports that court records show Zacharias groomed two male victims, now ages 32 and 26, while he was a seminarian and they were students at St. Catherine of Siena. The records show that the victims say they were addicted to drugs, and accused Zacharias of funding their addictions by paying them for oral sex.

“This is obviously a sad day not only for the church family, for the community, but it also marks the beginning of healing for those victimized by Michael Zacharias,” FBI Agent Eric Smith said, according to the Associated Press.

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