A Roman Catholic priest in Ohio has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of grooming three boys and exploiting their opioid addictions for commercial sex, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The Rev. Michael Zacharias, who served as a teacher and priest at a Toledo parish school, was convicted of five counts of sex trafficking that occurred over a 15-year period from 2005 to 2020. Prosecutors stated that Zacharias abused his position of trust to groom the boys, force them into sex, and enable their addictions to pain medications and heroin. Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, described his actions as exploitative and insidious. The priest developed relationships with the victims’ families when they were young and used their fears, housing instability, and criminal records to coerce them into commercial sex. Zacharias, who was ordained in 2002, was placed on administrative leave and removed from his role as pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Toledo following his arrest in 2020. The bishop for the Toledo diocese, Rev. Daniel Thomas, expressed that the life sentence marked a step towards justice. The diocese has requested the dismissal of Zacharias under canonical law, pending approval from the Vatican.
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