Brett Sengstock ‘is still deeply traumatised and age has not made the sexual abuse he suffered as a little seven-year-old any easier to talk about’ – much of what happened to Brett, he still can’t describe. Despite losing his claim for compensation on a technicality, he still waits for justice and accountability. God’s Word has much to say about ‘justice’:
“Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.” Deuteronomy 32:35
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
From the outset, the way Brian Houston ‘protected’ his father at the expense of the AOG Executive, should cause anyone to question this man representing himself as a minister of the gospel. Brian Houston also ‘protected’ his father at the expense of the victims seeking justice, and misleading a Royal Commission. Indeed did Brian Houston show any pastoral ‘duty of care’ towards his father’s sexual abuse victims or demonstrate biblical integrity before the Royal Commission? Or was it simply all about protecting ‘Brand Hillsong’.
Swansea abuse survivor Brett Sengstock said Scott Morrison’s support for Brian Houston ‘beggars belief’.
“There was no Christ in how they treated me,” said Mr Sengstock, 58, about Australian Christian Churches and its most prominent entity, the Hillsong Church led by Frank Houston’s son, Brian.
In Federal Parliament on Monday Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to say if he tried to have Brian Houston invited to a State dinner at the White House with President Donald Trump in September after earlier dismissing it as “gossip”. But he did not deny it. Mr Sengstock, of Swansea, said Mr Morrison’s support for Brian Houston “beggars belief” in the wake of evidence about Mr Houston’s failure to report his father’s sexual abuse to police and other authorities.
“If Scott Morrison was in front of me now I’d say ‘Shame on you. Hanging around with an enabler is a disgrace’,” Mr Sengstock said.
Maitland Christian Church Pastor Bob Cotton will release an email this week to more than 1000 affiliated Australian Christian Churches, asking for contributions to support Mr Sengstock as he battles the rare and aggressive cancer, peripheral T-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“To think these church leaders will suddenly step forward with financial support now, well, Scott Morrison believes in miracles, but mine are few and far between,” he said.
The church has avoided paying compensation because the then New Zealand-based Frank Houston first sexually abused Brett Sengstock in 1969 during a short Australian visit to preach for the Foursquare pentecostal Christian movement. He stayed with the Sengstock family.
“My claim was lost on a technicality,” Mr Sengstock said.
“It was never disputed that Frank Houston sexually abused me.”
Lawyers for Australian Christian Churches denied liability because although Frank Houston was leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s, he was not in that capacity during the Australian visit. Assemblies of God became Australian Christian Churches in 2007.
Mr Sengstock wept when he talked about his wife Lisa, the impact of the abuse on their lives and the future for her if his aggressive cancer follows the predicted prognosis and claims his life. He gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014 about Frank Houston’s abuse and Brian Houston’s responses when Mr Sengstock’s mother raised the allegations with two other church pastors in 1999. He used a pseudonym at the commission. He went public in 2018 after the church’s treatment of his civil case.
The royal commission found Brian Houston had a conflict of interest when he dealt with allegations about his father in 1999 and 2000, including sending a cheque for $10,000 to Mr Sengstock without advising the church’s national executive. Brian Houston told the royal commission his father “never, ever” preached again after Frank Houston admitted sexually abusing Brett Sengstock, but the royal commission found evidence he spoke at two engagements in Canberra only weeks later. Frank Houston was allowed to “publicly resign, without damage to his reputation or the reputation of Hillsong Church”, the royal commission found.
“Despite Pastor Brian Houston’s evidence that he had no doubt that his father’s conduct was criminal, he made no attempt to report his father to the police at the time the confession was made to him,” the commission said.
It also found Hillsong did not report allegations about Frank Houston to the Commission for Children and Young People, which wrote to the church in August, 2000 that “it is important to remember that any completed relevant disciplinary proceedings must be reported” to the commission, including matters from the previous five years. Brett Sengstock was diagnosed with his rare form of cancer in May, 2017 after a life of no drinking, smoking, drug-taking or unhealthy eating.
“Frank Houston has destroyed my life. He’s completely and utterly destroyed my life,” he said.
Brian Houston is a man who heads a church with a philosophy that Brett Sengstock does not recognise or understand.
“My view of what Jesus is like is nothing like their view. Their view is that Christians should be living like kings on earth, but when someone like me needs support they send in the lawyers.
“Trying to deal with a church that does that, it can really send you out of your mind and there’s nowhere to go for help. It’s just you and them and their lawyers.”
Hillsong Church said Brian Houston was overseas but approved the release of a statement saying the royal commission “did not directly involve Hillsong Church”.
“The abuse by Frank Houston occurred many years before Hillsong Church existed,” the statement said.
“Child abuse is abhorrent but attempting to blame Pastor Brian and tarnish his reputation is not going to advance the cause of any victim.”
Australian Christian Churches and Hillsong Church have not yet signed up for the National Redress Scheme.
“Hillsong has committed to signing up to the Redress Scheme and is working through the Australian Christian Churches, the denomination to which it is in relationship with, to achieve this.
Source: Joanne McCarthy, ‘Newcastle Herald’, https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/6436900/abuse-survivor-slams-prime-minister-over-close-ties-with-hillsong-church-leader/?fbclid=IwAR0fXpc2BmjX-woqa-TN_U-BMZXNT2fvxLWLAtXWBn_hCppqyia5M6sNPGg. Published October 15, 2019. (Accessed October 16, 2019.)
Updated to include the following ‘Open Letter’:
Open Letter to the Members of the National Executive of the Australian Christian Churches.
I am writing to you again, as I did just over 12 months ago to appeal to you to assist Mr Brett Sengstock, a survivor of childhood sex abuse by clergy and, as you well know, a victim of our Frank Houston (dec).
I am assured by the NSW State Secretary that you did receive my original email of 29th September 2018 and further, it has been forwarded to you again through him recently yet I still have had no reply so I feel writing an open letter is now not only appropriate but also my only hope of bringing proper attention to this matter that you appear to have chosen to ignore. It read as follows:
I wish to bring a serious matter to your attention and would be grateful if you would forward this to John McMartin and the National Executive.
Brett Sengstock was a child victim of Frank Houston’s sex crimes. He was identified at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, Case Study 18 by the pseudonym “AHA”.
It has come to my attention that Brett is suffering Stage Four Lymphoma and, as an invalid pensioner, is struggling financially because of the additional strain on his limited finances caused by his ongoing medical expenses. In short, he is dying and is broke.
A friend of Brett’s has started a “go fund me” page in an attempt to ease his financial burden at this time. Please refer to the following link:https://www.gofundme.com/f/justiceforbrett
I am hoping that we, as a Christian Movement, may be able to help Brett financially.
At the Royal Commission there was never any question raised about Frank Houston’s guilt in regard to the sex crimes committed against Brett when he was a little boy in Coogee. From the evidence tendered, everyone now knows that Frank Houston was a serial paedophile with multiple victims in New Zealand as well as Australia and the crimes committed against Brett were both serious and numerous. The impact on Brett’s life from this abuse has been devastating and ongoing.
Despite the Executive of the time knowing all these facts, they chose to conceal Frank Houston’s crimes from the Police and the Movement. In doing so they effectively took away any hope Brett would ever have of obtaining justice.
I am aware that in recent times Brett sought compensation from the Australian Christian Churches for the crimes he suffered at the hands of one of our most highly respected pastors. I understand that we, as a movement vigorously defended ourselves against his claim and won.
Now, we have a situation, where a Survivor, sexually abused by one of our own, is suffering a terminal illness and is in financial hardship to the point where he has to beg from strangers.
With all this in mind, I find it shameful that we have given huge amounts of money to top tier law firms to defend ourselves against a claim made by a victim who should have been shown compassion and mercy instead.
I appeal to you, and the current Executives, that even if the ACC through loopholes did not have a legal obligation to compensate Brett we definitely have a moral obligation before God and man to help him now.
I intend to take up a special offering for Brett in my church this Sunday and hope that you could encourage others to do the same.
Maitland Christian Church
Since writing the above quoted letter to you, public awareness of Brett Sengstock’s appalling treatment at the hands of the church has only increased. Please refer to the following links where his story is told on 60 minutes, mentioned on two occasions in Parliament by Mr David Shoebridge MLC, and also in a recent article by Joanne McCarthy in the Newcastle Herald.
How much better it would have been if we had acted with mercy and compassion at the earliest opportunity instead of layering further abuse on an innocent and vulnerable victim. Regardless of this monumental failure I believe that it is still not too late for us to do the right thing. I would again ask that we do something collectively for Brett Sengstock and take up an offering to support this good man who has suffered more than we could possibly imagine. At the very least would you please make our fellow ministers aware of Brett’s “go fund me” page https://www.gofundme.com/f/justiceforbrettand through them grant our congregations the opportunity to directly provide the financial support that Brett should have already received.
As it stands, Brett’s abuse at the hands of Frank Houston cannot be compensated under the National Redress Scheme so his only hope for compensation for a life stolen is the generosity of others. Surely we can find it in our hearts to help a victim of one of our own. Let us not fail him again.