Hillsong Church founder, Brian Houston, has been declared not guilty of concealing the sexual abuse his father committed against a young male in the 1970s. Australian police in 2021 charged Brian with failing to report the sex abuse by his father, Frank Houston, an allegation Brian strenuously denied before stepping down from ministry responsibilities last year.
The victim, who was a child at the time of the abuse, had given evidence in court that the abuse was a “hideous secret”, which he did not want others to know. Frank Houston, who died in 2004, is believed to have used his position as a pastor to abuse as many as nine boys.
Another victim, Brett Sengstock, who has waved his right to anonymity, was seven years old when his family hosted the New Zealand preacher at their home while he was on a tour in Sydney. That was when Frank Houston sexually abused him for the first time, abuse which continued over sevral years when he moved to Australia. Prosecutors had argued that Brian Houston was involved in “hush money” paid to MrSengstock some years later, and that he wielded his powerful influence to further cover up abuse allegations.
They argued that Houston covered up the abuse to protect the church’s reputation. Houston had claimed that the victim did not want the police involved in the matter, but prosecutors described that statement as a convenient excuse for failing to report the abuse.
Judge Gareth Christofi, on Thursday however said the younger Houston had a “reasonable excuse” for not reporting the matter, since the victim does not want police involvement.The court rejected charges, saying he spoke openly about his father’s crimes.
Speaking after the judgement, Mr Houston called his father a “serial paedophile” and admitted that the extent of his crime will never be known. The 69-year old however said “I am not my father, I did not commit this offence”.
Speaking to newsmen, Justin Humphreys, CEO of church safeguarding charity ThirtyOne:Eight, said the verdict gives him “deep sadness”.”I’m not sure that this verdict will go down well amongst many,” he said. “I suppose the first thing that I’d like to say is to pay tribute to the victim for his courage, his perseverance. He and others have suffered the most heinous of acts at the hands of trusted spiritual leaders. So then, at the end of all of this process, to have an acquittal, must seem like just another blow.” In a statement, Hillsong Church said it acknowledged the decision of the court and hoped those affected “deeply and irrevocably by the actions of Frank Houston will find peace and healing”. Brian Houston founded the “contemporary Christian church” with his wife, Bobbie, in Australia in 1983, in the western suburbs of Sydney. Now it has churches in 30 countries with a global weekly attendance of 150,000.Houston was forced to resign from his role as senior global pastor of the church last year, following allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards two women.