A US diocese has placed one of its priests on leave after police arrested him on charges of sex trafficking.
Federal agents arrested 53-year-old Father Michael Zacharias of Toledo Diocese in Ohio on Aug. 18 on charges of “coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion,” reported Catholic News Agency.
The priest “has engaged in sexual conduct with minors since the late 1990s,” it said, quoting an official statement of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The bureau also asked anyone who was groomed or assaulted by Zacharias to contact them.
Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo placed the priest on immediate administrative leave soon after the arrest and barred him from exercising public priestly ministry.
In a statement, the bishop said he was “profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests.”
“As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation,” he said.
He said these are the first such allegations against Zacharias, who was ordained a priest in 2002.
The federal bureau 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 told 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 Father Zacharias has served,” he said.