Attention churchgoers: Your parish bathroom is no longer a respite from the tedium of Mass or a place to seek refuge when you see the approaching embrace of your older aunt. In fact, it may be watching you.
Over the past few years, there has been a rash of hidden cameras found recording in church bathrooms across the country. In a creepy tale coming out of Oregon, a 34-year-old priest was caught in an elaborate ruse to prevent a 15-year-old parishioner from turning in the hidden camera he found in the bathroom to the police.
The unnamed boy had noticed a strange fixture next to the toilet and alerted Father Ysrael Bien. The priest assured the boy and his family that he had contacted the authorities, and they had launched an investigation.
When the boy’s father continued to check in for updates, the priest told him authorities had shut it down due to lack of evidence. But at further pestering from the family, Bien ultimately admitted that he had never reported the camera at all. He was afraid of “the consequences of losing the device,” he apparently told the father.
In the meantime, it had gone mysteriously missing. Now police believe the priest either installed the camera or assisted whoever did, according to court records obtained by The Oregonian.
This is hardly the first time bathroom voyeurism has struck the house of God.
In May, a Sacramento musician was found secretly recording video of women in the bathroom of his church. He had set up a cellphone and captured 20 women caught on camera over the past four months.
In Salinas, California, a maintenance worker had been placing hidden cameras in women’s bathrooms at an Episcopal church. By the time he was caught in September he had captured women using the restroom at least 20 different times. “This was something that took all of us by surprise,” the reverend announced at a Sunday afternoon service.
Back in Oregon, a former youth leader and janitor at a Baptist church had installed a video camera in the women’s restroom back in 2012. He managed to tape three people, including two children under the age of 12, before he was found out.
That same year, a pastor in Indiana was busted for putting fake air fresheners that disguised small cameras in his church bathroom. A woman noticed that the air freshener had fallen off the stall door and realized it was covering up a camera. After checking the other stalls, nearly all of them had a similar set-up. The pastor, who’d run the church for a decade, was fired and arrested.
But it’s not just churches.
Late last year, a criminal investigation exploded in Washington D.C.’s Jewish community. A respected Orthodox rabbi was found to have been filming congregants in the ritual baths via a hidden camera in a digital clock radio. The synagogue in question was one of the capital’s most prominent, attracting bigwig congregants like Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. And Rabbi Barry Freundel was revered among the community for his scholarly pursuits and position as one of the country’s top Orthodox leaders.
“He lectured us about the evils of porn while turning us into his own porn stars,” a victim told the court before Freundel was sentenced to more than six years for 52 counts of voyeurism. He had filmed more than 150 women since 2009.