Michael Zacharias, 53, was found guilty by a federal jury on Friday of five counts of sex trafficking for crimes that occurred between approximately 1999 and July 2020.
FINDLAY, Ohio – Former Findlay priest Michael Zacharias was found guilty by a federal jury Friday of trafficking minors for sex and trafficking minors and adults by force, fraud or coercion.
Zachariah, 53, was previously a priest at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay his arrest in August 2020 for crimes that occurred between approximately 1999 and July 2020.
He was found guilty of five counts of trafficking in minors for sexual purposes: one count of trafficking in minors for sexual purposes, one count of trafficking in minors for sexual purposes by violence, fraud and coercion, one count of trafficking in minors for sexual purposes by violence, fraud or coercion and two counts of trafficking in minors by force, fraud or coercion.
The judge will set a sentencing date next week.
Prosecutors said Zachariah used his position to seek out underage victims and use their drug addiction as a way to coerce them into sexual activity.
In one instance, while he was enrolled in seminary, Zachariah met the victim at a local school. According to court documents, he was grooming a minor victim, a process in which an abuser befriends and bonds with a child, and sometimes family, to lower their bars by objecting to sexual assault. The abuser often provides the victim with attention, affection, money and gifts and makes inappropriate sexual comments.
After establishing a relationship with the victim, Zacharias gave them money to support their drug addiction in exchange for alleged sexual acts. The behavior is said to have continued throughout the victims’ lives and into adulthood.
In another instance, Zachariah groomed the underage sibling of one of his victims using similar methods – exploiting their drug addiction and giving them money to support the relationship.
“Michael Zacharias used his respected position to exploit youth and adults for his own sexual gratification,” the FBI special agent said in the original indictment. “We must prosecute to the full extent of the law those who violate their sacred trust to molest and harm our children.”
Zacharias’ case will be presented to the Holy See – the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church – “which will lead to a determination of his status as a priest,” the Diocese of Toledo said in a statement on Friday. The diocese was waiting for the federal charges to be resolved to “continue the canonical (church) process on this matter.”
When Zacharias was arrested in 2020, he was suspended from “public priestly ministry” by the diocese and could not “represent himself publicly as a priest.” However, he was not deprived of his dignity. The Holy See will decide whether he will be removed from the priesthood.
On Saturday Victims of Priest Abuse Network (SNAP), a well-known victims’ advocacy group, released a statement about Fr. Zachary’s arrest.
The organization, which works to expose abusers and suspected abusers in the Catholic Church and those who defend them, applauded the conviction:
“We are grateful to the brave victims of this case and know that without their courage and perseverance, this dangerous predator would still have access to children.”
SNAP went on to call on the church to do more to stop the abuse:
“It is noteworthy that all the crimes of Fr. The Zachariahs came shortly before, during and after US bishops gathered in Dallas to pledge openness, honesty and transparency through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. the last twenty years have shown that this charter did little to stop the abuses of the time and did nothing to remedy the fundamental flaws in the institutional church that made secrecy and concealment the norm.”
Any allegation of sexual abuse by a priest, deacon, employee, or volunteer associated with the Diocese of Toledo should first be reported to the local law enforcement agency where the abuse is believed to have occurred.
The Diocese also asks that any such claims be reported to the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at 419-214-4880.