Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston was ruled not guilty by an Australian court Thursday after police brought one charge of concealing his father’s child sex crimes.
Houston, 69, was the Sydney-based megachurch’s senior global pastor when police charged him in 2021 with allegedly failing to bring the information to the attention of law enforcement authorities. He resigned from the Hillsong Church roles months later.
Houston had pled “not guilty” to the charge.
Sydney Magistrate Gareth Christofi ruled Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting his father Frank Houston’s alleged offenses to the police. Christofi accepted that Houston believed the victim Brett Sengstock did not want the abuse in the 1970s reported to the police.
Houston had faced a potential 5-year prison sentence if convicted.
‘The Very Opposite of a Cover-Up’
Sengstock testified in the trial that began in December that he never told Houston not to report the abuse.
The magistrate said that regardless of what Sengstock didn’t tell Houston, Houston had been told by others about Sengstock’s reluctance.
“Victims of sexual abuse ought to feel safe to confide in others without being concerned they are exposing those others to a criminal offense,” Christofi said.
Prosecutor Dareth Harrison said Houston had found a convenient excuse to avoid reporting the allegation to authorities to protect both the church and his father.
Christofi said proving that motivation beyond reasonable doubt was a “tall order indeed.”
Prosecutors also submitted that Brian Houston had used vague language when he spoke publicly about his father’s abuse and removal as a minister.
However, Christofi found that while Brian Houston might have used euphemisms in public, his meaning was obvious, and speaking “widely and freely” about his father’s abuse indicated Houston wanted people to know, the magistrate said.
“That is the very opposite of a cover-up,” Christofi said.
Sengstock told reporters outside the courthouse that the verdict blamed him for the church’s failure to report the elder Houston to the police.
“Frank Houston was no pioneer for Christianity. His legacy remains a faded memory of a pedophile,” Sengstock told reporters.
“Regardless of today’s outcome, I have received a life sentence. Blaming the victim is as repulsive as the assaults themselves,” he added.
A teary-eyed Houston expressed sympathy to his father’s victims when he spoke to the media as he left the courtroom following the ruling.
“I want to express my sadness to Brett Sengstock, genuine sadness about what my father did to him and all his victims. He was obviously a serial pedophile. We probably will never know the extent of his pedophilia,” Houston told the assembled reporters.
“A lot of people’s lives have been tragically hurt and for that, I’ll always be very sad. But I’m not my father,” he added.
Hillsong acknowledged the ruling in a statement from the church. “Our prayer is that those impacted deeply and irrevocably by the actions of Frank Houston will find peace and healing and that our former senior pastor Brian Houston and his family can look to the future and continue to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives,” it said.
Police Charged Brian Houston After Two-Year Investigation, His Father Was Defrocked
As CBN News reported in August of 2021, the New South Wales Police Force filed charges against Brian Houston in 2019 after a two-year investigation for allegedly covering up information about his father’s child sex offenses from the 1970s.
Frank Houston has been accused of abusing nine underage boys while he was a pastor. He confessed and was defrocked as an Assemblies of God pastor. The elder Houston passed away in 2004 at the age of 82. He was never charged.
Brian Houston became aware in 1999 of his father’s abuse of Sengstock who was just 7 years old when he was assaulted. Sengstock has said he was sexually abused by the elder Houston for more than five years in the 1960s and 70s. He has condemned Brian Houston’s handling of the issue and accused him of covering up his dad’s sins.
In a blog post published July 23, 2021, Hillsong stated Brian Houston didn’t know about his father’s criminal action against Sengstock until he was 45 and the victim was 37. The church reports, “Numerous other pastors and individuals had knowledge of this matter prior to Brian Houston learning about it.”
“Upon being told of his father’s actions, Brian Houston confronted his father, reported the matter to the National Executive Assemblies of God in Australia, relayed the matter to the governing board of Sydney Christian Life Centre, and subsequently made a public announcement to the church,” the church stated. “Brian sought to honor the victim’s multiple requests not to inform the police.”
Since resigning from Hillsong in March of 2022, Houston has visited other pulpits, preaching at several churches in the U.S. and at events in Australia.