Trigger warning: this post relates to child sex abuse and may be distressing for some readers.
In October this year, Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about the day that he found out that his father was a paedophile. He said it was a day he would never forget. “I cried, went home”, he told the Commission.
Now the counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Simeon Beckett, has made clear exactly what Brian Houston should have done when he found out about his father’s paedophilia: call the police.
For his failure to report his father’s confession of sexual abuse of a 7 year old boy, and his management of the church’s response, the Commission’s most senior lawyer has concluded that Brian Houston should himself be referred to police.
Brian Houston giving evidence before the Inquiry
The Australian reports that Beckett found that Frank Houston’s confession could have been used to secure a conviction had Brian Houston taken the initiative to inform the police of the alleged abuse.
“As that information may relate to contravention of a law … it is submitted it is appropriate to refer Pastor Brian Houston’s conduct to the NSW Police Commissioner,” his submission concludes.
The victim – referred to as AHA – told the Royal Commission that Frank Houston had offered him $10,000, but when that money didn’t arrive, AHA phoned Brian Houston who allegedly said, “Yes, OK, I’ll get the money to you … You know, it’s your fault all this happened. You tempted my father.” Brian Houston says this conversation did not take place.
The now-deceased Pastor Frank Houston allegedly molested a young boy during the 1960s at a church camp.
The allegations surfaced in 1998 when AHA told pastors within the church. In 2000, Pastor Houston confessed his crimes to his son, who was the national president of the Assemblies of God in Australia at the time (a role which he held until 2009)
“It hit me in a ten second period in a wave because I was like ‘homosexual’ — getting my head around that. My consciousness went to hold on a minute we’re not just talking about you know homosexuality, we’re talking about paedophilia. So I can still remember it very clearly.”
The Royal Commission heard that the Hillsong church ignored the rules when dealing with the abuse allegations against William Francis ‘Frank’ Houston – who founded the movement which eventually gave birth to the mega-church, Hillsong.
The church’s response was to deal with the alleged child abuse internally and allow Frank Houston to resign with a financial “retirement package”. The Assemblies of God subsequently offered Frank Houston a chance to return to his ministry.
The church failed to report the abuse allegations or his confessions to police. Frank Houston died in 2004 at the age of 82 before police could lay any charges against him.
Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that he did not inform the police of the allegations in 1999 because, the victim was aged over 18 when the allegations came to light and he did not want to “pre-empt” the victim.
Brian Houston at Hillsong Church.
He said he was in no doubt a criminal offence had taken place, but that it was up to the victim to come forwards.
“Rightly or wrongly I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were just to call the police,” he said.
“If he decides to go to the police he can, or if anyone else decides to go to the police they can.”
The abuse survivor, AHA, gave evidence to the Royal Commission about the abuse that he allegedly suffered.
He said that in the 1970’s Frank Houston would stay with his family when he came to Sydney from New Zealand.
AHA was just seven years old at the time. He said the abuse continued until he reached puberty and Frank Houston wanted nothing further to do with him.
“Pastor Frank would creep into my room late at night, nearly every night of the week. I would be asleep when he came in and then I would wake up with him standing over me,” he said.
“When he was touching me inappropriately I would be petrified and would lay very still. I could not speak while this was happening. It felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
“We would sometimes go into an office alone where he would feel between my legs. I remember this happening at an evangelical camp at Windsor.”
If this post raises any issues for you, help is available.
National Sexual Assault, domestic violence counselling service. 1800 737 732 https://www.1800respect.org.au/
Adults Surviving Child Abuse 1300 657 380 www.asca.org.au
Bravehearts 1800 272 831 www.bravehearts.org.au
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au