The mother of a man who was raped as a 7-year-old boy by Frank Houston—the father of the evangelist who founded the Hillsong megachurch—“tried to dissuade” her son from speaking publicly about the “sordid mess,” an Australian court heard Tuesday.
Brett Sengstock was assaulted for years by the pentecostal preacher. The assaults began in 1970 and included a rape in Sengstock’s bedroom at his family home in Sydney. Frank Houston died in 2004.
His son Brian Houston, who founded the scandal-ridden Hillsong church, is now on trial for allegedly failing to report his father’s sexual abuse after his father confessed it to him in 1999. Brian Houston has denied the charge of concealing a serious indictable offense of another person.
During the trial Tuesday, Sengstock was read diary entries written by his late mother. Sengstock previously told the court that he first told his mother about Frank Houston’s abuse when he was 16. Sengstock said he spoke to his mother about what happened after he had been sent for counseling with the pastor, during which Frank Houston was masturbating under his desk.
Sengstock’s mother’s diary entries were written in 1994, around 15 years after Sengstock said he first reported Frank Houston’s abuse. She wrote that her then-32-year-old son’s accusations were a “bombshell” that had left her “whole foundations rocking,” The Guardian reports. She also wrote that she had visited Sengstock to “try to dissuade him from publicizing this sordid mess.”
Phillip Boulten SC, Brian Houston’s defense attorney, argued that the entries suggested Sengstock first spoke to his mother about Frank Houston’s crimes in 1994 rather than as a teenager in 1979. Sengstock rejected the argument, insisting: “I told her when I was 16.”
Sengstock added that Frank Houston apologized and became “emotional” when Sengstock confronted him about the abuse but that the preacher’s pleas for forgiveness were “without being sorry for the damage he caused, only that it might be exposed.”
On Monday, the trial heard that Sengstock signed a blank McDonald’s napkin in exchange for $10,000 Australian dollars, which Sengstock interpreted as him being “paid for my silence.” When the money didn’t arrive weeks later, Sengstock said he called Brian Houston, who allegedly told him: “You know this is all your fault, you tempted my father.”
Boulten on Tuesday suggested that Brian Houston never said those words, but Sengstock insisted: “He did say that.”
The court also heard testimony from Sengstock’s great-aunt, Barbara Taylor, a pastor at Emmanuel Christian Family Church when she was told by Sengstock’s mother about Frank Houston’s crimes in 1998. She was shown diary entries of her own in which she wrote she had advised Sengstock not to go to the authorities. She wrote that she had told him: “If he goes to the church I will stand with him, if he goes to the secular courts, I will not.”
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