According to the Justice Department, an Ohio priest who forced three boys to have sex when they were younger and took advantage of their opioid addiction when they were older, paying them money to support their drug use in exchange for the pleasure, was given a life sentence in prison on Friday.
In a case described by prosecutors as illuminating how a dependable spiritual leader had preyed on piety in childhood, a federal jury in Toledo, Ohio, found the 56-year-old priest guilty in May of five counts of sex trafficking.
Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Ohio detailed the evil deeds of Mr. Zacharias during the two-week trial. They claimed that he had targeted economically disadvantaged boys without fathers or stable lives at home, gaining their trust through affections that later turned into inappropriate sexual remarks and touching.
Mr. Zacharias “was held accountable because of the courageous testimony of these young men, who gave voice to his betrayal and abuse,” according to a statement released on Friday by the district’s U.S. attorney, Rebecca C. Lutzko.
“While a lifetime sentence for Zacharias is not a complete solution to the harm he caused to his victims, it is an important step in the direction of justice and community safety,” she continued.
When contacted late Friday night for comment, Mr. Zacharias’s attorneys did not answer immediately. According to court documents, Mr. Zacharias defended his innocence throughout the trial and said that any sexual activity he had done had been consensual and with adults.
According to a statement from the Diocese of Toledo, the Vatican’s “final determination” regarding Mr. Zacharias’s “status as a priest” is still pending.
In a statement issued after Mr. Zacharias’ conviction in May, Bishop Daniel Thomas of the Diocese of Toledo said, “the acts of which Rev. Michael Zacharias has been found guilty are reprehensible, morally deplorable, and manifestly contrary to the dignity due to each human person and the dignity of the priesthood.”