Brian Houston, the founder of multi-site megachurch Hillsong, has been charged for allegedly concealing his late father Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of children. Houston, who has been living in the United States and was recently granted permission to travel to Mexico for a preaching job, says he will return to Australia to clear his name.
The charge follows a two-year investigation into allegations that Brian Houston failed to report his father’s alleged sexual abuse of a boy back in the 1970s. In a statement, NSW police said that they “will allege in court that the man 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 released a statement saying the news came as a “shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter.”
“I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight,” the statement continued. Hillsong Church released its own corporate statement, saying Houston “has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name.”
Police Minister David Elliott was clearly outraged that Houston was traveling in Mexico despite the COVID-19 lockdown, saying Houston “is setting a shocking example to the millions of Australians forced into lockdown and I can’t think of a more hypocritical set of values for a so-called Christian leader.” Houston is known to be close friends with Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a devout Pentecostal.
Frank Houston was accused of abusing numerous boys over the course of his career as a preacher. The older Houston confessed to the actions in 1999, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse then found that Brian Houston failed to report his knowledge of the abuse.
Hillsong Church published a statement, saying Houston learned what his father did when he was 45 years old, though it acknowledged other pastors knew what had happened earlier. “Upon being told of his father’s actions, Brian Houston confronted his father, reported the matter to the National Executive Assemblies of God in Australia, relayed the matter to the governing board of Sydney Christian Life Centre and subsequently made a public announcement to the church,” the post read.
Brett Sengstock was one of the boys abused by Frank Houston, and he has accused Brian Houston of covering for his father. Brian Houston maintains that Sengstock had asked him not to go the police, which Sengstock vehemently denies.
Frank Houston founded Sydney Christian Life Centre in 1977, while Brian Houston later founded Hills Christian Life Centre. The two would merge to become Hillsong Church, which would grow into a global force on the strength of its dazzling, high-energy worship music sets. In the U.S., Hillsong sites in New York City and Los Angeles counted pop stars, actors and professional athletes among its congregants, and made headlines for its slickly dressed pastors.
But Hillsong has been subject to several scandals in recent months, most notably the firing of the New York site’s head pastor Carl Lentz after he confessed to an extramarital affair.
Frank Houston passed away in 2009. He was never charged.