(CP) Brian Houston, the founder and former global senior pastor of the Hillsong Church network, told a court in Australia that his father, Frank, was a “serial paedophile” but received a retirement package after being defrocked by the Assemblies of God.
“I have no doubt now that my father was a serial paedophile, and we’ll probably never know the extent of it,” Houston, who has pleaded not guilty to concealing his father’s sexual abuse, told the Downing Centre Local Court, according to Australia’s ABC News.
Brian Houston, who served as the head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God from 1997 to 2009 and founded Hillsong in 1983, acknowledged that the denomination should have issued a public statement about why his father was stripped of credentials in 1999 by the Assemblies of God instead of just saying it was related to retirement.
He was formally charged last August with failing to report his father’s abuse of a young boy after a two-year investigation by the New South Wales Police. Authorities charge that Houston, 68, “knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.” Houston has denied any wrongdoing.
During Frank Houston’s tenure as an Assemblies of God leader, he was alleged to have abused a number of young boys in New Zealand and Australia.
Brian Houston reportedly immediately forced his father to resign from the Sydney Christian Life Centre with a pension once he learned of the claims against him in 1999.
Brian Houston told the court he thought at the time that his father, who died in 2004, was not “a danger” to the community as his health was failing and that the abuse took place within a “season.”
“There’s no evidence that after that season, in the early [1970s] and so on, that he continued to abuse minors,” he said.
Frank Houston was the head of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand until 1971.He died in 2004.
As per court documents, Brian Houston knew about the abuse as early as September 1999.
He claims that he respected the wishes of his father’s victim, Brett Sengstock, by not reporting the allegation to authorities.
He rejected allegations from prosecutors that he only disclosed his father’s confession to church figures so he could “have control” over a potential scandal.
Houston, who also denied claims that $10,000 was paid to Sengstock in exchange for his silence, told the court he was at a meeting at a lawyer’s office in Sydney where an “agreement” was drafted regarding his father’s payment to Sengstock, but that was not meant to silence the victim.
“I was very careful to make sure that it didn’t reflect any NDA (non-disclosure agreement), nothing to silence Brett, and that there was nothing to stop Brett from going to the police,” Houston said.
He added he did not want to go against the decisions of the church’s national executive at the time and did not “actively” think a public statement about his father’s abuse was needed.
Houston contends that church leaders today are more aware of their obligations after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which began in 2012.
“I’m quite sure if we had our time over again, there would have been a different approach to public announcements,” Houston said.
Sengstock has also claimed that Brian Houston once blamed him for “tempting” his father, an allegation that Houston called “absurd.”
“It’s nonsense. I mean, who would say that about a seven-year-old boy, or a 10-year-old boy,” Houston told the court, according to ABC News. “[I] t’s just an absurd notion.”
Houston also told the court his father was given a retirement package more than a year after he admitted to the abuse, NCA Newswire reported. Houston said the retirement package would “financially look after” Frank and Hazel Houston.
“He had been fired from preaching, had his credentials taken, he’d been asked to leave Hillsong. … This was an attempt to sign him off as an administrator,” Houston said.
Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison argued Frank Houston was allowed to “quietly retire” with no public announcement being made he was an “admitted paedophile.”
The court was also told that Frank Houston continued to preach. He was invited by Pastor Bob Cotton to preach at the Hunter Valley Christian Life Centre in Maitland in September 2004, about two months before his death, NCA NewsWire reported last week.
Cotton pleaded ignorance about sexual abuse by Frank Houston at the time but said he was told that Frank Houston committed a “criminal” act.
Frank Houston spoke in tongues during his sermon at the church and conversed with several young boys in the congregation, according to an audio recording of his sermon.
“This curly haired little man here … But what a fantastic young fellow he is, curly hair, sort of. Good looking,” Frank Houston can be heard saying. “It’s not your fault you’re good looking. So thank God you are. Who wants to be ugly when you can be good-looking. Yeah. Look at this great big strong man, full of faith. I hope you love God all the days of your life.”
Earlier this month, Hillsong’s general manager, George Aghajanian, said it was his job to ensure the church complied with New South Wales laws. He said the allegation of Frank Houston’s abuse was not reported to authorities because it was not a “current matter.”
“Our understanding of our requirements was to report something that could be potentially an imminent danger,” he told the court, adding that the reported abuse was committed decades earlier and predated the church itself.
The court has been told that Brian Houston confronted his father about the abuse in late 1999, and he confessed before his death.
In September 2021, Brian Houston stepped down from his roles on Hillsong Church oversight boards after being charged with concealing his father’s abuse. In March 2022, Houston resigned as global senior pastor after it was revealed that two serious allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him in the last 10 years.
In a Facebook video last month, Brian Houston said he was essentially forced out of leadership with a misleading narrative.
“I want to be clear. The media and others incorrectly say I resigned because I breached the Hillsong code of conduct, but that’s just not true. I didn’t resign because of my mistakes. I resigned because of the announcements and statements that had been made, which Bobbie and I felt made my position untenable. And I spelled out my reasons for my resignation in my resignation letter to the Hillsong Church board,” Houston said.
In a statement, Hillsong claimed that Houston violated the church’s pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.