Menu Close

Update: Black Collar Crime: Findlay Catholic Priest Michael Zacharias Convicted of Sex Trafficking, Sentenced to Life in Prison

Michael Zacharias

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2020, Michael Zacharias, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay Ohio, was accused of grooming and sexually assaulting minors for years. (I attended high school in Findlay in the 1970s. Several of my friends attended St. Michael’s.)

The Toledo Blade reported:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday arrested the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, alleging that he groomed and sexually assaulted minors for years, beginning in Toledo.

Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith said the Rev. Michael Zacharias, 53, is believed to have groomed and sexually assaulted minors since the late 1990s.

The Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force took the priest into custody after he presided at a 7 a.m. Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Parish. Father Zacharias faces charges of coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion, according to court documents.


Agent Smith addressed the media at a morning news conference outside the priest’s residence on Greendale Avenue in Findlay, which abuts the parking lot of the parish grounds. He said the criminal complaint filed against the priest includes accounts from two victims, but his department believes there have been others.


“It’s imperative that those other individuals out there come forward,” he said on Tuesday. “Your contact with us will remain strictly confidential.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo announced that Father Zacharias was put on administrative leave effective immediately upon hearing word of his arrest. This means he cannot exercise public ministry, administer sacraments, or present himself as a priest. Administrative leave is a precautionary measure while an allegation is being investigated.

Bishop Daniel Thomas responded in a statement:

“I am profoundly shocked and grieved to learn of these charges against one of our priests,” he said. “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. As we await the outcome of the criminal investigation, our prayers go out to anyone affected by this situation.”

The diocese indicated that these are the first allegations raised against Father Zacharias.

Father Zacharias was ordained in 2002, according to the diocese.

He is most recently the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017. The parish serves about 3,300 households, and is affiliated with St. Michael the Archangel School, which covers preschool through eighth grade.

The diocese identified his previous assignments as St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo as a seminarian between 1999 and 2000; St. Peter Parish in Mansfield, Ohio as an associate pastor between 2002 and 2007; St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Van Wert as pastor between 2007 and 2011; St. Joseph and St. Ann Parishes in Fremont as pastor between 2011 and 2017; and St. Michael the Archangel in Findlay since 2017.

Investigators allege in court records that he began to groom two male victims, currently ages 32 and 26, while he was a seminarian and they were students at St. Catherine of Siena. One met Father Zacharias in the sixth grade, the other in the first grade, according to the complaint.

Each described to agents drug addictions that began in their teen years, and alleged that the priest would help fund their drug habits by paying them for oral sex. This began while they were underage and, in the case of one of the victims, continued until as recently as July.

The complaint indicates that these exchanges occurred at times in parish rectories, including Father Zacharias’ diocese-owned residence in Findlay.

The complaint also indicates that in the case of the victim with whom he was in touch as recently as July, Father Zacharias would request and at times pay for videos in which he performed sex acts on the victim and in which he confessed to grooming the victim. The complaint references multiple text messages between the victim and the priest.


Father Zacharias was one of several ordinands who spoke with The Blade in 2002, reflecting on their vocations amid seismic revelations of widespread clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as reported by the Boston Globe.

Then-Deacon Zacharias said that his cohort of priests would bring with them an understanding of sexuality as a part of who they are.

“In the past I don’t want to say they denied it, but it seems as though they were told, ‘You’re going to be a priest, you’re going to be celibate,’” he told The Blade then. By contrast, he said contemporary seminarians were taught to have healthy and appropriate relationships.

Findlay Mayor Christina Muryn responded to the news in a statement on Tuesday.

“I am distraught by the news of the arrest of Father Michael Zacharias,” she said. “These allegations are not taken lightly, and the Findlay Police Department and our community at large will support the full and thorough investigation by the FBI. Such abuse of power, and perversion of sexuality is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any organization, individual, or society.”

Three years later, Zacharias was convicted of sex trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

NBC-4 reports:

A former priest has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of his role in a sex trafficking scandal in Toledo, Ohio.

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio, 56-year-old Michael Zacharias was sentenced to life in prison, five years of supervised release, and fines of $25,500 after a jury found him guilty in May of five counts of sex trafficking.

Zacharias, of Findlay, was a priest-in-training when he first met three victims at a parochial school in Toledo in 1999. At the time the victims were five, 11, and 13 years old, though the release states they were victimized into their adult ages.

Evidence showed that Zacharias groomed the boys and became close with their families before eventually coercing the victims to engage in commercial sex acts. He then continued to victimize the boys into their adulthood by exploiting their opioid addictions to cope with the trauma of their abuse.

Zacharias served as a Catholic priest in northwest Ohio for over 20 years. His victims struggled in school, fell into opioid addiction, developed criminal histories and became financially dependent on him to avoid opioid withdrawal and homelessness.

Zacharias was arrested in August 2020 and charged with sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud or coercion, and coercion and enticement. At that time, the Diocese of Toledo said Zacharias was a priest and pastor of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Findlay and had been placed on administrative leave. 

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.


  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I am glad he has been arrested at a young enough age to serve significant prison time—and, if he is paroled, to live as a registered sex offender and disgraced ex-prelate. Too many priests, like the one who sexually abused me (and, I am sure, some kids I grew up with) go to their “eternal reward “ before their crimes are known.

  2. Avatar

    What other organization would survive with just a small fraction of its leaders found guilty of this horrific abuse? Yet the Catholic Church rolls merrily along

    • Avatar
      John S.

      As a Catholic convert (2018), number one I fully agree with whatever consequences that come not only to this pervert abuser, but the institutional leaders that ignored and/or enabled him. Number two- what we are slowly finding out is that child perverts are spread throughout our society and culture at large, to the point where I would argue that child sexual abuse could almost be called an endemic part of our society. The self righteous liberal Hollywood crowd that loved to make movies and TV shows poking fun (or worse) at the Catholic Church turned out to have some of the most egregious abusers (of both adults and children) in their midst. The sanctimonious IFB “Christians” who loved to point out pedophile priests and chalk it up to the vow of celibacy? Just as bad if not worse, but these churches (along with the SBC) did not track the abusers and incidents. And don’t get me started on the public school system. You know, the institution that’s there to protect our children from abusive parents.
      I say this not to “both sides” this issue but to put the idea on the table that sexual abuse is a symptom of not just our religious institutions but most all institutions that exercise some form of influence and control over our children as well as other adults. It is not a conservative or liberal problem, not a religious or secularist problem. At the end of the day I see sexual abuse, particularly of children, similar to racism- intertwined with our history and development as a country.

  3. Avatar

    Wholly crap! “…contemporary seminarians were taught to have healthy and appropriate relationships”. Got to wonder what a healthy and appropriate relationship means in the context of celibacy. It appears Father Zach had the idea it includes seducing and trafficking children. Nothing less than natural life in lockup will be enough to protect society from this organism because incorrigibility seems inherent in pedophiles. Focus on retribution and punishment is inappropriate in such cases. Protecting society should be the primary reason to lock him away.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Discover more from The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Bruce Gerencser