Fr. Ysrael Bien
Fr. Ysrael Bien
Archbishop Alexander Sample on Thursday sent a two-page letter updating members of St. Francis Parish on the case of a priest being sought by Sherwood Police.

In the letter, the archbishop said the Archdiocese of Portland and the parish in Sherwood owe “a debt of gratitude” to a teen boy who discovered a spy camera in a bathroom used by altar servers, and to the boy’s family, who diligently made sure police knew about the incident.  

Records uncovered by the Oregonian showed that Father Ysrael Bien purchased the $295 camera, which was disguised as an electrical outlet.

Archbishop Sample says he was “shocked and stunned” when he heard the warrant had been issued. Until that time, police had told the archdiocese only that there was “an ongoing investigation.”

Father Bien, 34, has been charged with invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence and initiating a false report — all misdemeanors.

Without telling anyone, Father Bien returned to his native Philippines in June and has stayed, despite repeated requests by Archbishop Sample that he return to Oregon.

When the archbishop placed the priest on administrative leave in June for failing to report the camera discovery promptly, Father Bien said he would be living with a priest friend in Portland. The archdiocese did not become aware that Father Bien had left for the Philippines until July 29.

Legal authorities had put no restrictions on Father Bien’s movement and had made public statements that the priest was not a suspect, the archbishop said.

On Aug. 6, the archbishop wrote to Father Bien, asking him to return to be part of the pending investigation. The priest declined, saying for his health and well-being he would stay with family. In an Aug. 13 follow-up letter, Archbishop Sample said whatever the priest needed for health and well-being would be offered to him in Portland. So far, Father Bien has not responded.

The archbishop noted that the priest’s long absence without permission is a violation of church law.

“I’m as exasperated as you that Father Bien is not here to answer the very serious allegations he faces,” Archbishop Sample wrote. “I share your frustration that the nature of the investigation meant that the parish community and the Archdiocese had precious little information about its progress.”

While he is on administrative leave, Father Bien cannot function in a ministerial role, the archbishop wrote. Whether the priest returns to Oregon or not, a canonical proceeding will determine his status.

The archbishop said he will continue to provide updates to the parish and school community.