By Tracy Cabrera
FOR the longest time, President Rodrigo Duterte has been a critic of the Catholic Church, even claiming he was once a victim of abuse by a member of the clergy.
Though the president’s claims against the Church and his negative experience in the hands of a priest may be considered as an isolated case, the Vatican in the past decade or so has been rocked by scandals worldwide and the problem of sexual abuse by its members has dogged it despite the present papacy’s advocacy to cleanse the Church from top to bottom and revitalize it with renewed vigor of propagating the faith and cooperative unity among the different religions of the world.
However, the issue of sexual abuse within the Church continues.
Just recently, a diocese in the United States 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 August 18 on charges of “coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor, and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion,” as reported by the 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.