Students and staff speak out about how their reactions to the arrest of Saint Michael’s priest Father Zacharias
By Kayla Canterbury
On Aug. 18 former Saint Michael the Archangel priest Michael Zacharias was arrested and charged with sex trafficking of minors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released an affidavit that detailed the case. Zacharias was accused of grooming minors who had developed drug addictions and manipulated them into performing sexual acts in exchange for money on multiple occasions. The FBI has text and video evidence to use against Zacharias during the case.
The news of the arrest and allegations shook members of the Catholic community nationwide, but especially those in Findlay. University of Findlay junior Jessica LaFontaine has grown up in Findlay and has been an active member of the St. Michael church. LaFontaine said she was disappointed when she first heard that someone in the Toledo diocese was arrested, but when she saw it was a pastor in her community, she become more shocked and disgusted. She mentioned how the St. Michael community was already coming together to support each other, with Father Peter and Father Marty leading the way.
“Just last week in his homily, he was talking about forgiveness and how he’s ready and available to heal, grieve, and mourn with us,” LaFontaine said.
LaFontaine is also very involved with campus ministries. She says that the discussion is open and encourages students to talk about the situation openly. She believes that although there is hurting now, healing is hopefully in the near future and encourages people to talk to one another because no one should face this alone.
“I know there’s a lot of hurting, and hopefully some healing will come, but hopefully we can do that as a community and not internalize those feelings of disgust because they are definitely justified, but they don’t have to be felt alone,” she said. Pastor Matt Ginter feels the same. Having open discussion is important to him.
“Obviously if students need to process things or talk through things, we’d be available for that. I’ll be honest, too, I’m not sure how you go about some of these conversations. They need to happen, but they’re so sensitive and they’re so difficult that I don’t think we have a good template,” Ginter said.
Junior Liana Burk also agrees that individuals involved in campus ministries are ready to sit down with students who may be hesitant about attending mass or bible studies.
“Anytime a part of the Christian community hurts, we’re all there for them. We want to make the view of campus ministries and the church as a whole a positive view,” Burk said. “I think anyone would be willing to sit down and talk about that and do whatever we could.”
Burk vows that her faith is not shaken. She wants to share that positive view of the Catholic church with others, and to show them that one mistake does not define the church.
Though students may be hesitant to reach out or participate in things such as attending mass or the Catholic Student Fellowship group, Ginter encourages them to look at things from a different perspective.
“I think there should be at least a small amount of encouragement in the fact that the diocese has responded quickly and transparently and they haven’t tried to justify Fr. Michael’s actions. They’ve recognized the evil that they are.” Ginter also said he believes it is best to confront the issue at hand rather than to run from it.
“I think Paul in Romans 12 tells us that we need not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. If you run away from difficulty and brokenness, then you’re just going to keep running. I think it needs to be confronted.”