Hillsong Church's Brian Houston says he wasn't trying to hide abuse payment

Pastor tells royal commission he did not mention $10,000 payment to abuse victim because he forgot conversation

The Guardian, UK/October

By Michael Safi

The head of Sydney’s Hillsong Church, Brian Houston, has denied trying to “hide” his involvement in a $10,000 compensation payment made to a man sexually abused as a child by his father, the high-profile Pentecostal preacher Frank Houston.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse is investigating the way Australian Christian Churches, formerly the Assemblies of God, responded to allegations of abuse against Houston and two other men.

Frank Houston, who died in 2004, admitted to molesting the man, known as AHA, in Sydney in the late 1960s and early 70s.

After the victim’s mother approached the church nearly three decades later, Frank Houston was suspended from preaching and approached AHA offering $10,000 compensation, allegedly saying, “I don’t want this on my head when I stand in front of God”.

Brian Houston, who succeeded his father as head of the Hills Christian Life Centre (now Hillsong), attended a meeting with Frank Houston, Gloria Jeans Coffee CEO Nabi Saleh, and a lawyer to discuss the allegations.

Following the meeting, the lawyer drafted a document offering AHA $10,000 compensation as a “final” payment.

Brian Houston discussed the money with AHA over the phone a few weeks later after the money had failed to materialise.

However, Brian Houston failed to mention both the meeting with the lawyer and the phone call in his statement to the royal commission, only confirming the two incidents in his testimony on Thursday after they were raised by AHA in his statement earlier this week.

A lawyer for AHA, Karen McGlinchey, put it to Houston on Friday that the “inconsistencies and errors in your statement were deliberate” because the preacher was trying to “hide” his knowledge and involvement in the $10,000 payment.

“Well the suggestion is wrong. No, I didn’t do that,” Houston said.

He said his phone conversation with AHA had been “much bigger” than the delay in compensation, and he had forgotten that the money was raised.

“As soon as I saw what [AHA] had said about the money [in his statement], I remembered that was true. I had completely forgotten about that part of the conversation,” he said.

Brian Houston said he didn’t mention the meeting with his father, Saleh, and the lawyer, because the topic of AHA’s compensation never came up.

He said the meeting was not “relevant” because he had only attended in a personal capacity as Frank’s son, rather than in his role as a church leader. “It was something that was between a father and a son,” Houston said.

He maintained: “I wasn’t involved in the payment of the money.”

When McGlinchey suggested Houston “would not have had these issues” had he appointed an independent investigator to deal with his father’s abuse, the preacher responded he was “very pleased” with the way he had handled the case.

“When I found out this information I went straight to my father. I confronted him, nobody else had. I went through the most horrific meeting of my life. I suspended him there and then, and I made sure he never preached again in his life,” he said. “I feel very confident that I did the right thing.”

A subsequent investigation of Frank Houston by the church uncovered up to eight more cases of alleged child abuse by the pastor, a formative figure in Australia’s Pentecostal movement. None of these cases were referred to the police.

Houston said on Friday the total number of children his father abused may never be known. “We probably don’t know how many. We may never know how far it went,” he said

The current round of hearings will also examine how Australian Christian Churches responded to child abuse allegations against former teacher Ken Sandilands and former counsellor Jonathan Baldwin. Both men were convicted of child sex offences, and Baldwin remains behind bars.

The commission continues.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos