PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Authorities in the Philippines are searching for a Catholic priest from Oregon who went missing while facing criminal charges for allegedly hiding a camera in a church bathroom, officials with the Archdiocese of Portland said on Friday.
Father Ysrael Bien is accused of personal invasion of privacy, tampering with physical evidence, and initiating a false police report, according to a search warrant issued last week by a Washington County Circuit Court judge.
The camera, disguised as an electrical outlet, was found in late April near a toilet in the men’s bathroom of the St. Francis Catholic Church in Sherwood, Oregon.
The church member who discovered the camera took it immediately to Bien, but police say the priest only reported the matter to them in May when he said the camera had been stolen.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Portland said in a statement sent to Reuters on Friday that the reactions to the charges against Bien were: “Shock. Disappointment. Betrayal.”
“We are currently working with officials in the Philippines to locate Fr. Bien and return him to the United States to face the charges against him,” said David Renshaw, director of communications for the Archdiocese.
“A canonical review will begin soon, whether or not he returns to the States.”
Bien was put on administrative leave on June 24 after the Archdiocese became aware of the police investigation into the hidden camera.
In a letter to church members, Archdiocese of Portland Alexander Sample said Bien has been in the Philippines since July 29 despite efforts by the Archdiocese to get him to return and face the investigation.
Sample said in the Aug. 20 letter that he has not heard from Bien since early August, when Bien said he would not return for “reasons of his own health and well being.”
“It is gravely troubling to find out that one of our priests has been charged with criminal misconduct,” Sample said in the letter, noting Bien cannot serve as an active priest while on leave.
“I’m as exasperated as you are that Fr. Bien is not here to answer the very serious allegations he faces.”
Sherwood Police have called on anyone who may have been a victim of the hidden camera to come forward.
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Daniel Wallis)