The court says Brian Houston had “a reasonable excuse” for not reporting the offence to the police in 1999. The pastor says he is aware that his father was “a serial paedophile”.
The founder and former leader of the well-known Hillsong Church in Australia, Brian Houston, has expressed “relief that the truth has come out” after being cleared of concealing his father’s repeated sexual abuse of a boy.
The prosecutor had accused Houston of covering up the crimes of his father, in the decades of the 1970s, against victim Brett Sengstock, who was then 7 seven years old. Frank Houston, who died in 2004, is believed to have abused other boys, using is position as a pastor.
Brian Houston only knew about the repeated abuses two decades later and shared this information with his church leadership but not with police, he said, to respect the wish of the victim, who then asked that the crime not be reported.
In the court sentence, the magistrate said Brian Houston had a “reasonable excuse” to not report the crime of his father, even if the motivation would also have been to avoid damaging the reputation of the family and the church he then led.
“I have no doubt now my father was a serial paedophile and we’ll probably never know the extent of it”, Brian Houston told the media outside the court. “A lot of people’s lives have been tragically hurt, and for that I will always be very sad. But I am not my father. I did not commit this offence”, he continued.
The former leader of Hillsong went on to say that the court case against him had been “a targeted attack. If I wasn’t Brian Houston from Hillsong, this charge would never have happened”, he added.
Victim Brett Sengstock, also spoke about how he had seen the case. “Regardless of today’s outcome, I have received a life sentence”, he told reporters, and added: “Clergy child sexual abuse survivors (…) still do not have a voice in this country”.
Brian and his wife Bobbie founded Hillsong Church 40 years ago in Sidney. It later became one of the most recognisable evangelical churches not only in Australia but worldwide, with worship places in 30 countries. Its very popular music ministry helped popularise the megachurch.
In March 2022, Brian Houston resigned from the leadership of Hillsong when the church made public a report who confirmed his “inappropriate behaviour” toward two women. The resignation of the most visible figure of the church opened a deep crisis in the organisation.