Child sex abuse inquiry: Youth pastor victim says church more concerned with reputation than him

ABC News, Australia/October 18, 2014

By Nicole Chettle

A man who was sexually abused by a Sunshine Coast youth pastor as a child says Australian Christian Churches was more concerned with protecting its reputation than protecting him, an inquiry heard.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has completed hearings into the way Pentecostal churches managed complaints of child sexual abuse in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

On the final day of evidence at the Sydney hearing, Peter O'Brien, the lawyer representing a man who was abused by the youth pastor read a statement from his client, known as ALA, that said the past 10 years had been a "living hell".

"They failed to detect the abuse. They failed to prevent the abuse. They failed to support us through the criminal trial process," ALA said.

"It appears to me they were more concerned about the reputation and financial position of the ACC (Australian Christian Churches) above all else."

Mr O'Brien also read a statement from the victim's mother in which she said she and her husband wanted to raise their children in the way of God.

"Unfortunately, we've had this horrendous event in a place we believed was a safe and good environment," she said.

"Our son has been watching these hearings and is so angry that every level of the ACC seems to be still passing the buck and blaming someone else, not caring for the victim."

The former Sunshine Coast youth leader, Jonathan Baldwin, was jailed in 2009 for abusing ALA from the age of 13 for two years.

Paedophile did not have Youth Pastor credentials

Baldwin used the title "youth pastor" at the time.

The commission heard there were no rules to stop the informal use of the term "youth pastor" in Pentecostal churches, and that could be confusing for some members.

The national president of the ACC, Wayne Alcorn, said parents deserved more clarity.

"They have every right to assume that when they send their child to a youth program or any activity in the life of our church that those children and young people will be cared for by properly trained, recognised leaders, absolutely," he said.

Through their lawyer, ALA and his family expressed their dismay that no-one from the ACC had contacted them during the inquiry.

The ACC later told the ABC it was advised such a meeting was inappropriate during proceedings, but that the national and state presidents met the family afterwards.

In a statement, the ACC acknowledged the suffering of each person who had come forward to tell of their traumatic experiences and how their faith and trust in the church had been broken.

The statement said their stories were heart-breaking, and that the church has a "zero tolerance" approach to child abuse.

ACC, formerly the Assemblies of God, had services attended by a quarter of a million people in 1,000 centres across the country each week.

"One case of child sexual abuse is one too many, and we are committed to do everything in our power to prevent such acts taking place," Pastor Alcorn said.
ACC to pay advisers to create child protection policy

The commission was told the ACC will pay independent advisers to create a new child protection policy in response to the abuse of ALA.

Queensland president Pastor John Hunt told the hearing that three organisations are involved in a tender process.

"The child protection policies of the ACC Australia will be put together by an organisation or by a group of people who are professional in that area and we will pay them to service us with what is the greatest area of child protection that we can indeed embark upon," he said.

During the nine days of evidence the commission also looked into the case of the paedophile preacher, Frank Houston, the father of Hillsong pastor Brian Houston.

The ACC national president told the commission there was a perceived conflict of interest in how Brian Houston handled a complaint against his father, who was suspended for 12 months in 1999 when he was accused of molesting a boy 30 years earlier.

Under church rules, Frank Houston should have been sacked.

Wayne Alcorn said his predecessor, Brian Houston, was a man of integrity.

"I know how some people perceive this," he said.

"But there is no doubt in my mind that there was nothing untoward happening.

"If we were to do it again, we would not do it that way."

Pastor Alcorn said that while the executive voted to "rehabilitate" Frank Houston, there was no suggestion he would ever preach again.

Frank Houston died in 2004 and never faced criminal charges.

The inquiry is due to turn its attention to the Bethcar Children's Home in the New South Wales town of Brewarrina, from Wednesday, October 22.

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