BRIAN HOUSTON, the founder of the global church network Hillsong, and its former leader, has been acquitted of a charge of failing to report his father’s child sexual abuse to the police.
Mr Houston stepped down from his global leadership position early last year to contest the charge, which was heard in a Sydney local court.
Mr Houston’s father, Frank Houston, who died in 2004, was a Pentecostal preacher. The court heard that Frank Houston repeatedly raped and assaulted a young church member, beginning in 1970, when the boy was seven years old.
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which ran from 2013 to 2017, found that Brian Houston failed to report the abuse to the police after his father disclosed it in 1999. Instead, his father had been allowed to resign from the church with a pension.
Mr Houston told the court that he had not reported his father’s abuse to the police at the request of the victim. But the victim, Brett Sengstock, who waived his right to anonymity, denied in evidence that he had made that request.
The magistrate, Gareth Christofi, however, said he had little doubt that Mr Houston knew that Mr Sengstock did not want the matter reported to the police. “He therefore had a reasonable excuse for not bringing the matter to the attention of police,” he said.
The prosecution’s argument, that Brian Houston had failed to report the crime out of self-interest to protect his father and the church, was rejected by the magistrate. Mr Christofi said that Mr Houston had repeatedly disclosed his father’s offending in sermons. “That is the very opposite of a cover-up,” he said.
Speaking outside court, Mr Houston acknowledged that his father was a serial paedophile who had caused immense damage, but suggested that his prosecution “was a targeted attack. . . If I wasn’t Brian Houston from Hillsong, this charge would never have happened.”