Hillsong church head Brian Houston accused alleged child abuse victim of ‘tempting’ father, inquiry told
A man, referred to as AHA, told the hearing when he was offered a payout, Brian Houston said: “You know this is your fault this all happened. You tempted my father.”
In a statement Brian Houston said: “I strongly refute that I, at any time, accused him of tempting my father. I would never say this and I do not believe this.”
“At no stage did I attempt to hide or cover up the allegations against my father,” he said.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is examining how Pentecostal churches like Hillsong in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland responded to abuse allegations against Pastor Frank Houston and two other men.
AHA told the hearing William Francis, otherwise known as Frank Houston, visited his family in the Sydney suburb of Coogee in 1969 and 1970 and would sometimes stay over.
“Pastor Frank would creep into my room late at night, nearly every night of the week. I would be asleep when he came in and then I would wake up with him standing over me,” he said.
“When he was touching me inappropriately I would be petrified and would lay very still. I could not speak while this was happening. It felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
AHA, who was aged seven when the abuse began, also said: “We would sometimes go into an office alone where he would feel between my legs. I remember this happening at an evangelical camp at Windsor.”
Mother refused to accept abuse, said Houstons ‘were like royalty’
He told the hearing the abuse continued over several years until “Pastor Frank wanted nothing to do with me after I reached puberty”.
AHA told the commission that Pastor Frank later contacted him offering compensation during a meeting at a fast food store in the Sydney suburb of Thornleigh in 1999.
AHA said he was asked to sign a soiled napkin to agree to $10,000 compensation and the matter would be over.
When the money did not arrive two months later, he contacted Brian Houston.
AHA said he saw a television address by Brian Houston, who was now the senior Pastor of the church, around the year 2000 when he told the congregation that his father had been involved in a minor indiscretion in New Zealand 30 years ago.
He said he was appalled that Brian Houston did not reveal the extent of allegations against his father, including his case.
“He avoided using the term paedophilia,” AHA said.
“I thought it was corrupt that he had used the phrase ‘involved in a minor indiscretion’.
“As far as I was aware Pastor Frank was still preaching at this time and was also doing seminars.”
AHA said Brian Houston contacted his mother between 2000 and 2004 and said Hillsong had to come first.
“It’s terrible what happened to AHA but the church has to come first. My father never molested me,” AHA said Brian Houston told his mother.
AHA told the commission he suffered from depression and post traumatic stress disorder and that he felt “dead and emotionless on the inside” due to the abuse.
“What Pastor Frank did to me destroyed my childhood,” he said.
“For many years I was full of shame and fear and embarrassment. Now I feel mostly anger.”
It’s terrible what happened to AHA but the church has to come first. My father never molested me.AHA said Brian Houston told his mother.
The Commission heard Mr Houston was visiting from New Zealand and was invited to speak at several Sydney churches at the time.
AHA said he would play on the beach with Mr Houston’s son Brian.
“I was so ashamed of the abuse that I kept it inside for many years and did not tell anyone,” AHA said.
When he told his mother in 1978, at the age of 16, she found it hard to accept because she was heavily involved in the church and “the Houstons were considered almost like royalty in those circles”.
AHA said his mother responded by saying: “You don’t want to be responsible for turning people away from the church and sending them to hell”.
The hearing was told his mother did not take the allegations further because she was concerned about the effect on the church, and as a result AHA did not pursue the allegations at that time.
The abuse came to light many years later when AHA’s mother mentioned the abuse at another church.
Counsel assisting the commission Simeon Beckett told the hearing that Brian Houston became aware of the complaint in 1999.
“According to Pastor Taylor, Brian Houston said he was in shock and his father would be stood down from preaching,” Mr Beckett said.
“He had spoken to a barrister who had told him that if the matter went to court his father would surely be incarcerated for the crime.”
It later emerged that six men said Mr Houston had touched them inappropriately when they were children – although only four men would agree to be identified.
Frank Houston did not deny allegations
At least 50 pastors in New Zealand were aware of the allegations which Mr Houston did not deny.
A statement prepared for the Assemblies of God Church, which Hillsong was affiliated to, said there had been allegations of a “serious moral failure by Frank Houston 30 years ago and that he had admitted to the failure”.
But the statement “is only to be used to respond to rumours or if Frank Houston engages in public ministry”.
Mr Houston died in 2004 at the age of 82.
“No allegations of sexual abuse against Frank Houston have been referred to the police and no civil proceedings have been commenced in Australia,” Mr Beckett said.
Hillsong church now spans 12 countries and has 35,000 members across Australia.
Brian Houston said in a statement that the Hillsong Church welcomed the royal commission and fully supported its objectives.
“We believe that exposing child sexual abuse and the response of institutions to that abuse, and allowing survivors to share their traumatic experiences, is a powerful step in the healing process,” he said in the statement.
The commission will look at the church’s current procedures in dealing with complaints of abuse and the protection of children.
The hearing continues.