The Guardian reports,
Hillsong’s Brian Houston failed to report abuse and had conflict of interest – royal commission
Brian Houston, the founder of the Hillsong Church, failed to alert the police about allegations his father had sexually assaulted children, and had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for dealing with the accusations, a royal commission has found.
In October 2014 the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse examined the responses of the Assemblies of God in Australia (now Australian Christian Churches) to allegations against three men, including Frank Houston, a preacher who helped build the Pentecostal movement in Australia and who died in 2004.
Frank Houston had abused up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand, and in its final report on the case released on Monday, the commission found multiple failings within the church executive – at the time led by Frank Houston’s son Brian – in responding.
Both the New South Wales executive and the national executive failed to follow its complaints procedure when handling the allegations, the royal commission found in its report.
The royal commission found both executives failed to appoint a contact person for the victim (referred to as AHA), did not interview AHA about his allegations, did not interview Frank Houston, and did not record any of the steps it took.
The royal commission also found neither the national executive nor Brian Houston referred the allegations to police, and determined Houston “had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility for dealing with AHA’s allegations because he was both the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of Mr Frank Houston, the alleged perpetrator”.
The October hearings heard from AHA, who said he had been sexually abused by Frank Houston in 1969 and 1970 as a seven- and eight-year-old boy, when the preacher would stay with AHA’s family on visits to Sydney.
AHA told the commission he remembered Frank Houston coming into his room “nearly every night of the week” on his Sydney visits, and sexually assaulting him.
AHA also alleged Frank Houston abused him when they were alone in an office, and at an evangelical camp in Windsor.
“The abuse in my home and at the different church meetings continued over a period of years until I reached puberty,” AHA told the commission. “Pastor Frank wanted nothing to do with me after I reached puberty.”
AHA told his mother in 1978 but she warned him off pursuing it as the Houstons “were almost like royalty” in church circles. His mother eventually brought the allegations to the church decades later.
Brian Houston, who was then the national president of the Assemblies of God, confronted his father with the allegations in 1999 and the preacher confessed.
Brian Houston called a meeting of the national executive, and relinquished the chair, but remained present during discussions on the allegations and disciplinary actions against his father.
The Assemblies of God executive began investigations – later discovering a further eight alleged victims of Frank Houston – but did not to make them public, telling its churches in a letter from Brian Houston there was “no reason” for it to be announced as others may use it to further their agendas, the commission heard.
Brian Houston defended his failure to go to the police, despite having no doubt it was criminal conduct, and told the royal commission in October 2014 the revelations about his father had hit him in “waves”.
“I was like, ‘homosexual?’ getting my head around that, then thinking, ‘A minor? Hold on, we’re not just talking about homosexual, we’re talking about paedophilia’,” he said.
Brian Houston had told the commission his father was stood down instantly, and Frank Houston “never, ever preached again anywhere after I confronted him”. However evidence to the commission revealed he continued to preach in Canberra the following month.
“Pastor Brian Houston and the Australian Christian Churches provided no written evidence recording the suspension of Mr Frank Houston’s credential to the royal commission,” the report said.
Frank Houston gave up preaching and retired in late 2000, and the national executive allowed him to publicly resign, with a retirement package, and “without damage to his reputation or the reputation of Hillsong church,” the commission’s report said.
AHA had also told the commission he met Frank Houston and another church member at a McDonalds, where the preacher offered him $10,000 and asked him to sign a dirty napkin, allegedly saying, “I don’t want this on my head when I stand in front of God.”
AHA said Frank Houston told him to call Brian Houston if there were problems, but when the money did not appear two months later Brian Houston responded: “You know it’s your fault all of this happened – you tempted my father,” AHA told the commission.
Houston denied the accusation in a statement outside the royal commission. He also denied trying to hide his involvement in the meeting from the royal commission, and sought to distance Hillsong from the abuse, saying people should understand the abuse claims being examined happened before Hillsong existed, “when I was a teenager myself”.
On Monday Hillsong church said it supported the objectives of the royal commission, but sought to distance itself from the findings. “The royal commission did not directly involve Hillsong church,” and the abuse by Frank Houston “occurred many years before Hillsong Church existed”, the church board and elders said in a statement.
In response to the findings of a conflict of interest, they said it was “easy to look back many years in hindsight”.
“Pastor Brian acted in the best way he felt at the time and took decisive and immediate action against his own father,” read the statement. “We are confident that the actions of Pastor Brian, from the moment he discovered the news about his father, were done with the best intentions towards the victim.
“The findings of the royal commission confirmed that his actions resulted in the perpetrator being immediately removed from ministry.”
The statement also said several other people knew of the abuse before Brian Houston, and noted as an “indisputable” fact that AHA was a 36-year-old adult and “could have taken the matter to police himself at any time”.
In the 16 years since the revelations, “no one had ever advised that this historical complaint coming from a mature adult needed to be reported to the police,” the church said.
A spokeswoman for the Australia Christian Churches said it had “actively addressed many of the points that emerged at the royal commission hearing … and will continue to do so to build a stronger culture of transparency and accountability when it comes to creating a safe environment for children and youth.”
A binding child protection policy was adopted by the national conference in April this year, the statement noted, and every local church was aware of its responsibilities towards protecting children.
It also defended Brian Houston, saying again the victim was an adult who had expressed a wish the abuse not be reported to police.
The royal commission also examined the responses of the Assemblies of God (now Australian Christian Churches) and other churches to allegations against two other men – former Victorian teacher Kenneth Sandilands and former youth pastor Jonathan Baldwin.
Several complaints were made that Sandilands, a teacher at Northside Christian College, had abused a number of students in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
By the end of 1992 Pastor Denis Smith, chair of the church board and college council overseeing the school, was aware of numerous complaints, concerns and incidents but did not take steps to remove Sandilands from his teaching position.
The commission found that Smith alone had knowledge of each complaint, their sexualised nature, and that Sandilands had breached the warnings given and conditions imposed upon him. He had the power to remove Sandilands from teaching and failed to act to ensure the protection of the children at the school, said the commission’s report.
“He deliberately did not disclose the complaints to the board and thus kept his inadequate handling of them from the scrutiny of the board which he chaired.”
In its findings on the third case study, the report said Baldwin was hired as a youth pastor at the Sunshine Coast church in 2004, by Dr Ian Lehmann, the senior pastor. Baldwin shortly after married Lehmann’s daughter.
The commission found that no background checks of Baldwin were carried out by Lehmann despite a legal obligation, and within months Baldwin began sexually abusing ALA. The abuse continued for two years and concerns were raised by other church elders with Lehmann over the following two years. Lehmann spoke with ALA but took it no further.
In 2007 ALA told the pastor at his new church, and as a result Baldwin was charged with 47 sexual abuse offences. He was convicted of 10 counts of child sexual abuse in 2009 and sentenced to eight years incarceration.
The Sunshine Coast church and Australian Christian Churches did not communicate with ALA’s family until five years after Baldwin’s conviction.
The royal commission found Lehmann had a conflict of interest, and failed to tell ALA’s parents, the board of the church, or Australian Christian Churches, despite being aware of the allegations and personally observing some indicative behaviour between Baldwin and ALA.
Source: Helen Davidson, Hillsong’s Brian Houston failed to report abuse and had conflict of interest – royal commission, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/nov/23/hillsongs-brian-houston-failed-to-report-abuse-and-had-conflict-of-interest-royal-commission, Published 23/11/2015. (Accessed 24/11/2015.)