Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston
Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston

Hillsong head Brian Houston had child abuse 'conflict'

BRIAN Houston, the head of the hugely successful Hillsong Church, has been censured by the royal commission into child abuse over the way he handled allegations of sexual abuse against his father.

Brian Houston was president of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal movement when his father Frank Houston confessed to abusing a boy in New Zealand 30 years earlier.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was told Brian Houston ran the church's investigation into the matter.

Frank Houston was eventually suspended from preaching but his son never called police.

The commission has found there was a conflict of interest between his personal and professional roles.

It also found the church ignored its own policies during the investigation.

"Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that he did not think he had a conflict of interest because he never attempted to defend his father from the allegations and he acted swiftly to suspend his credential," the commission found.

"We do not accept the views expressed by pastor Brian Houston."

Brian Houston confronted his father about the allegations while holding the position of president and senior pastor.

He also acted as a go-between, when his father organised a $10,000 payment to the victim.

Mr Houston, during his evidence at the commission, maintained the payment was nothing to do with the AOG or Hillsong but was between his father and the victim.

He said  he did not tell police because the victim was, by then, in his thirties and did not want the authorities involved.

Hillsong Church said the abuse committed by Frank Houston occurred years before its church was formed.

"It is easy to look back many years in hindsight, however Pastor Brian acted in the best way he felt at the time and took decisive and immediate action against his own father," the church said in a statement.

Frank Houston was allowed to retire from the church before the abuse became public. He died in 2004.

First let me make the most important point - We fully support the commission. As we've seen over many years, parts of the Christian church have failed our children by turning a blind eye to abuse and even covering it up. In my eyes, attempting to cover up child abuse is pure evil. This commission allows survivors to share their traumatic experiences, and my prayer is that this will help them to heal.

Hillsong was asked to appear not because of anything that happened here but because of the abuse suffered by children at the hands of my father around 40 years ago when he was based in New Zealand - many years before Hillsong Church existed and when I was a teenager myself.

This was a Royal Commission to examine the way institutions - like the church - handle complaints of sexual abuse. There was no allegation of abuse against anyone at Hillsong Church and no one was on trial.  This was a hearing, not a trial. It's important this point is clarified.

As most of you know, I have spoken about the crimes of my father many times over many years. I have shared that when I first found out about this, I immediately confronted my father and ensured he never preached or served in any ministry capacity again. There was no delay in action - from the moment we knew and he confessed, his ministry stopped. I then consulted the elders of what was then Sydney Christian Life Centre and we referred the matter to the national executive of the Assembly of God.

The investigation and subsequent actions were then handled by the AOG without my interference.

There have been reports of money being paid to the victim. Again for clarification, this was between my father and the victim. It had nothing to do with me or Hillsong Church.

Be assured that we did not tolerate sexual abuse when we heard of these allegation in 1999 - and we don't now. Hillsong Church has zero tolerance for abuse. We do not allow any person with convictions or findings against them of child sexual abuse to attend any Hillsong activity and we are continually reviewing and updating our procedures so that children across our campuses are protected.

While I wanted to explain these events, I also wanted to thank you for being such a wonderful and supportive church. Talking publicly about such personal details involving my father is draining, yet throughout the week Bobbie and I have felt your love and encouragement and that's lifted us and helped us through. And though we value your prayers for us, the truth is there are many people who's lives have been devastated by sexual abuse and specifically by my fathers actions and need our thoughts and prayers.

Please keep praying for those affected by sexual abuse and for the victims in the cases involving my father. I believe that unconditional love and total restoration is possible for anyone through Jesus Christ - and that there is no other name that can bring hope and healing to those that are hurting.

Hillsong's statement on the Royal Commission (Oct 2014)

Hillsong Church welcomes this Royal Commission and fully supports its objectives. We believe that exposing child sexual abuse and the response of institutions to that abuse, and allowing survivors to share their traumatic experiences, is a powerful step in the healing process.

While our involvement in this commission does not involve abuse that happened at our church, and there are no allegations against me or Hillsong, I have been touched by the horrific act of child sexual abuse in a very personal way. Having to face the fact that my father engaged in such repulsive acts was - and still is - agonising.

However as painful as this is for me, I can only imagine how much more pain these events caused to the victims, and my prayer is that they find peace and wholeness.

Hillsong Church has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and has comprehensive child protection policies that are continually reviewed. We also welcome any recommendation of the commission that would assist us to improve on these policies even further.

This Royal Commission reminds us of the vulnerability of our children and should compel every organisation responsible for the oversight of children - churches, schools or other institutions - to ensure that the abhorrent acts of the past will never happen again.

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