- Australian founder of Hillsong mega-church Brian Houston steps down as leader
- Global senior pastor will fight charges of concealing his father’s child sex abuse
- Police allege his father Frank sexually abused a seven-year-old boy back in 1970
- They believe Houston knew of the abuse from late-1999 and helped cover it up
- Senior pastor told congregation charge of concealment was a ‘complete shock’
By OLIVIA DAY and CANDACE SUTTON FOR DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA
PUBLISHED: 12:55 AEDT, 30 January 2022 | UPDATED: 14:51 AEDT, 30 January 2022
Brian Houston has decided to step down as the leader of Hillsong while he fights criminal charges that he covered up his father’s child sex abuse.
The Australian founder of the wildly popular mega-church made the shock announcement to his flock at a service on Sunday morning.
Houston told worshippers the charge of concealing the serious indictable offence came as a ‘complete shock’ and he would ‘vigorously defend’ it.
The 67-year-old is accused of knowing from September 1999 that his father Frank sexually abused a seven-year-old boy in 1970, and helped cover it up.+12
Brian Houston (pictured with his wife Bobbie) has stepped down as the leader of Hillsong while he fights criminal charges that he covered up his father’s child sex abuse+
The Australian founder (pictured in Sydney on December 9) of the wildly popular mega-church made the shock announcement to his flock at a service on Sunday morning
Frank Houston sexually abused numerous young boys in New Zealand and Australia from 1965 to 1977 when he lead the Assemblies of God church.
His son on Sunday told Hillsong worshippers he would immediately step down temporarily so he could be ‘fully committed’ to ‘setting the record straight’.
Houston said Hillsong’s external legal counsel advised the move to the church board during the annual retreat in December.
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‘[They said] it would be best practice for me to step aside completely from church leadership during the court proceedings,’ he told hundreds of worshippers.
‘So it’s likely to be drawn out and take up most of 2022, especially considering the backlog in courts exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. +12
- Houston (pictured with his wife Bobbie) told worshippers the charge of concealing the serious indictable offence came as a ‘complete shock’ and he would ‘vigorously defend’ it+12
‘[They said] it would be best practice for me to step aside completely from church leadership during the court proceedings,’ Houston (right) told hundreds of worshippers on Sunday
‘And along with this the board and I have been having detailed discussions around requirements for leadership and we’ve talked about the effects of the situation with my father, going back many years up to the current legal case, and the impact that this has had on me emotionally.
‘So the result is Hillsong’s global board feel it’s in my and the church’s best interest for this to happen, so I’ve agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year.’
Houston last week had the case adjourned until March 3 so a case conference could be held in February and told the court he would plead not guilty.
His wife Bonnie took to Instagram on the same day as the shock announcement to tell Hillsong’s 2.9 million followers she would be hosting the Sunday service.
‘I feel like God has placed something in my heart, and you know, it’s going to be a special morning and an important morning in Jesus’ name,’ she said.
Last September, the Global Senior Pastor stepped aside as Hillsong’s board chairman after being charged six months ago by NSW Police.
In court documents, police allege Houston failed to alert authorities his father had indecently assaulted the young boy despite suspecting the incident had occurred. +12
His wife Bonnie took to Instagram on the same day as the shock announcement to tell Hillsong’s 2.9million followers she would be hosting the Sunday service (pictured)+12
Last September, the Global Senior Pastor (pictured) stepped aside as Hillsong’s board chairman after being charged six months ago by NSW Police
Police allege Houston (pictured in Sydney in December) failed to alert authorities his father had allegedly indecently assaulted the boy despite suspecting the assault
Police will allege the 67-year-old had information that might be of ‘material assistance in securing the prosecution of Frank Houston for that offence’.
The period of the charge placed against the senior pastor spans five years from September 15, 1999 to November 9, 2004 – the day after his father died.
The charges can carry a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, depending upon the exact crime concealed.
It comes a few weeks after Houston was spotted holding secret meetings with mega-church elders and board members at an expensive Sydney hotel.
Over two days of seminars, the embattled leader was seen engaged in serious discussions with senior figures at the $1500-a-night Park Hyatt.
Dressed very casually and wearing his hair pulled back in a ponytail the founder ate a sumptuous $45-a-head breakfast buffet with his wife Bobbie on December 9.
Bobbie, who is also a senior Hillsong global pastor but holds no leadership role on the eldership or board, was not seen attending any of the meetings.
Daily Mail Australia understands 10 board members and elders plus three staff stayed for two nights at the hotel while others dialled-in through video conferencing.
Over two days of seminars, the embattled leader was seen engaged in serious discussions with senior figures at the $1500-a-night Park Hyatt (pictured)
The Hillsong Global Head Pastor arriving (above) at the 2014 royal commission into child sexual abuse which delved into how Hillsong had handled his father’s abuses
Daily Mail Australia sought a response from Hillsong about the two-day conference and about the topics of discussion for the board and eldership.
Of concern to Hillsong currently is the poorly performing Hillsong Channel, a Christian-themed TV network and the joint venture of Hillsong and the American Trinity Broadcasting Network.
At least ten staff from Hillsong Channel were made redundant in recent weeks, with salaries of TV channel staff ranging from $49,000 for a video editor to $71,000 for a creative producer.
The days of meetings came after a hellish year worldwide for Hillsong which was founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston in Sydney’s Hills district in 1983 and now boasts 131 churches in 30 countries.
Apart from the charge laid against its most high profile member, Mr Houston, this year Hillsong has been embroiled in a scandal involving US Hillsong members and a controversy over former celebrity New York pastor, Carl Lentz.
At Hillsong Australia, staffing is family-oriented with Bobbie and Brian Houston’s son Ben an employee and their son-in-law Peter Toganivalu working alongside other relatives of board members.
In an email in September, Mr Houston said he was resigning from his position as chairman of the Hillsong board, so that board members could function ‘to their fullest capacity during this season’.+
In an email in September, Mr Houston (pictured) said he was resigning from his position as chairman of the Hillsong board so the church could ‘function to its fullest capacity’
‘I also wanted to let you know that I’ve made a decision to step aside from my role on the Hillsong Church boards that oversee the governance of our operations,’ the email obtained by People read.
‘I did this so that these boards can function to their fullest capacity during this season. This doesn’t change my role as Global Senior Pastor. I thought it was important to let our church family know in the interests of transparency, and I wanted you to hear it from me directly.’
Frank Houston was accused of sexually abusing a seven-year-old boy from Sydney’s east during trips from his native New Zealand five decades ago, in 1969 and 1970.
NSW Police began investigating Brian Houston after a 2014 royal commission into child sexual abuse delved into how Hillsong’s forerunners – the Hills and Sydney Christian Life Centres – handled 1999 abuse allegations raised against his father.
Houston, then the president of the evangelical organisation the Assemblies of God in Australia, allegedly confronted his father, who confessed, the royal commission’s final report said.
The inquiry alleged that instead of reporting the abuse to police, Houston allowed his father to go into retirement and gave money to the alleged victim.
There is no suggestion Houston was involved in offending against the child.
Houston (pictured) told worshippers the charge of concealing the serious indictable offence came as a ‘complete shock’ and he would ‘vigorously defend’ it+
Houston (pictured in Sydney in December) told a 2014 royal commission he did not report his dad to police as the victim was 35 or 36 years of age at the time the allegations surfaced
The victim told the commission he met Frank Houston at a McDonald’s restaurant in Thornleigh in 2000 and was offered a dirty napkin to sign in exchange for $10,000.
The victim said he felt ‘shame, fear and embarrassment’ for many years and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Frank Houston died in 2004, age 82, after confessing to a ‘continuing problem’ of a sexual interest in young boys.
Houston told the royal commission he did not report his dad to police as the victim was 35 or 36 years of age at the time the allegations surfaced.
He said weeks after he became aware of the abuse, the victim told him he did not want to go public or approach the police, however the victim has disputed this.
The pastor claims he is innocent and that the allegations took him by surprise.
‘These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,’ Houston says.
‘I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.’