CNA Staff, Aug 18, 2020 / 05:04 pm (CNA).- A priest in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio was arrested and charged with sex trafficking on Tuesday. The diocese has placed him on leave pending investigation.
Fr. Michael Zacharias, 53, was arrested August 18. He was 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-Lima Resident Agency.
In a statement, the FBI said the priest “has engaged in sexual conduct with minors since the late 1990s.” The bureau asked anyone who was groomed or assaulted by Zacharias to contact them.
Upon learning of the arrest, Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo placed Zacharias on immediate administrative leave. He may not exercise public priestly ministry or present himself as a priest while the claims are being investigated.
“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” said Bishop Thomas 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,” the bishop said. “As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”
The diocese said it is fully cooperating with law enforcement. It said that these are the first such allegations against Zacharias, who was ordained a priest in 2002.
Zacharias has served as pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, in Findlay, Ohio since 2017. Officials said no one at the parish school is identified in the complaint against Zacharias.
He also served at several other parishes in the area.
The federal indictment lists two males as victims, age 26 and 33. Both men said they met the priest while attending a Catholic grade school and were groomed and preyed upon by Zacharias into early 2020. They said he engaged in sexual acts with them for money, which funded their drug addictions.
FBI Special Agent Eric Smith said in a press conference that the bureau is looking for additional victims.
“We suspect there are other victims not only in this community but in others where Fr. Zacharias has served,” he said.