Brian Houston, founder and senior pastor of the Hillsong megachurch, has been charged for allegedly concealing child sexual abuse by his father, Frank.
Police in the Australian state of New South Wales served Houston’s lawyer with a court attendance notice on Thursday afternoon, demanding that Houston – who has recently travelled to Mexico – appear in court in Sydney on October 5. In a statement, police said they “will allege in court 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.”
Sources close to the investigation confirmed that the man in question is Brian Houston, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Frank Houston, who died in 2004, headed the Assemblies of God church in New Zealand until the early 70s. He was accused of sexually abusing nine boys in both New Zealand and Australia, and in 2015 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that Brian failed to alert the police about such allegations. The commission also found Brian “had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility for dealing with [the] allegations because he was both the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of the alleged perpetrator.”
Brian, who founded the pentecostal church Hillsong in 1983, was the head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God from 1997 until 2009. He sacked his father from his role as a pastor in 1999 amid the multiple allegations of sexual assault. But in addition to not informing police, Brian also wrote to churches telling them not to make the allegations against his father public, The Guardian reported.
One of the victims also told the Royal Commission that Frank Houston offered him $10,000 in exchange for “forgiveness,” and said that when he approached Brian Houston about it Brian became angry and said “You know it’s your fault all of this happened – you tempted my father.”
Following these revelations, Hillsong issued a statement saying “We are confident that the actions of Pastor Brian, from the moment he discovered the news about his father, were done with the best intentions towards the victim. The findings of the Royal Commission confirmed that his actions resulted in the perpetrator being immediately removed from ministry.”
Last month the church posted another a “Response to Recent Media Inquiries on the Royal Commission,” stating that “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. Brian sought to honour the victim’s multiple requests not to inform the police.
“The law at the time granted an exception to reporting a crime of this nature when a person had a reasonable excuse not to report,” that statement added. “This state law has since further clarified that this type of situation – when an adult victim of child abuse explicitly does not want the matter reported – qualified as a reasonable excuse under the law.”
Over the past 38 years, Hillsong has grown to become not only the largest church in Australia, but a formidable global brand. The church has previously attracted a number of celebrity worshippers, including Justin Bieber, Chris Pratt, Kourtney Kardashian, and Kylie and Kendall Jenner. It currently has at least 80 branches in 28 countries.
VICE World News approached Hillsong for comment.
Brian Houston also has a famously close friendship with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Last year, Morrison asked the Trump administration to invite Houston to a state dinner at the White House – a move that drew criticism, given Houston remained under police investigation in relation to the allegations against his father.
“I’ve known Brian for a long time and Hillsong church has a very big network of churches all across the United States, and the ministry, when it comes to the music and so many other things have been very big – it’s probably the single largest church organisation that is known in the United States,” Morrison said at the time.
When Australian radio station 2GB asked Morrison whether he was aware of the investigation, the prime minister evaded the question.
“All I know is that they’re a very large and very well-attended and well-supported organisation here in Australia, and, you know, they’re very well known in the United States,” he said. “So well known that Brian was actually at the White House a few months after I was, so the president obviously didn’t have an issue with it, and that’s what I think that’s where the matter rests.”
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