TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest was convicted of five sex-trafficking charges in the molestation of three boys who prosecutors say he met at a Toledo preschool and coerced to continue sexual activity as adults.
Rev. Michael Zacharias was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of sexual trafficking of a minor, two counts of sexual trafficking of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion, and two counts of sexual trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion.
Prosecutors said Zacharias “paid the victims to engage in sex acts with him using the victims’ fear of serious harm to compel their compliance.” They also said the three victims were developing serious drug addictions and the priest “waited to propose commercial sex” until they were heavily involved in drug abuse.
The Toledo Blade reports that Zacharias, 56, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and taken to the Lucas County jail to await sentencing. Defense attorneys had denied any sexual contact when the three were minors and maintained that any contact after they became adults was consensual.
The mother of two of the victims said after the verdicts that she was “thankful that the judicial system has removed an evil monster that preys on children, and he won’t be able to hurt another child or young adult.”
“He’s an evil man, and I will not let him ruin my faith in God,” she said.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Toledo, which placed Zacharias on administrative leave after his August 2020 arrest, said it was “now free to address this matter” according to canon or church law and the case will be presented to the Holy See, which will make the final judgment on his status as a priest.
“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,” Bishop Daniel Thomas said in a statement Friday. “Our society and church together must bring evil into the light, wherever it is found.”