Hillsong exec. tells court abuse by Frank Houston wasn’t reported because it's not a ‘current matter’

Pastor Brian Houston appears on stage during Hillsong's 2014 conference in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Pastor Brian Houston appears on stage during Hillsong's 2014 conference in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. | Hillsong Church

The general manager of Sydney-based Hillsong Church has told a court that sex abuse committed by Frank Houston, father of the leader of the global multisite church, was not reported to authorities because it wasn’t a “current matter.”

Brian Houston, the megachurch's former global senior pastor, was formally charged with failing to report his father’s abuse last August after a two-year investigation by the New South Wales Police. Authorities charge that Houston “knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.”

In Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court last week, the church’s general manager, George Aghajanian, said it was his job to ensure the church complied with New South Wales laws, but added the allegation of abuse was not reported to authorities because it was not a “current matter,” The Guardian reported.

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“Our understanding of our requirements was to report something that could be potentially an imminent danger,” he told the court, adding that the reported abuse was committed decades earlier and predated the church itself.

Frank Houston, who died in 2004, was the head of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand until 1971. Brian Houston, who founded Hillsong in 1983, was the head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God from 1997 to 2009. As per court documents, Brian Houston knew about the abuse as early as September 1999.

“Believing that Frank Houston committed that offense and knowing that he had information that might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of Frank Houston for that offense,” Brian Houston “failed to bring that information to the attention of NSW Police,” court documents allege.

During Frank Houston's tenure as an Assemblies of God leader, he was found to have abused a number of young boys in New Zealand and Australia. Brian Houston reportedly immediately forced his father to resign from the Sydney Christian Life Centre with a pension once he learned of the claims against him.

One accuser, who is now 60 years old, told the Royal Commission Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014 that Brian Houston had accused him of having "tempted" his father when he was a child. Houston, however, told the commission at the time that the claim was false.

Last week, Aghajanian also told the court he believed he was the first person to tell Brian Houston, in October 1999, about the reports of abuse committed by his father against a victim beginning in January 1970.

“He had a shocked expression on his face,” Aghajanian told the court.

The Leader, however, noted that in November 1999, about a month after Aghajanian had told Brian Houston about the abuse, a pastor named John McMartin also phoned Houston to tell him the same thing, and the Hillsong founder reacted with similar shock.

McMartin told the court, then Houston asked him: “How do you know it's true? I said, ‘I don't know it's true but it has to be investigated.’”

The court has been told Brian Houston confronted his father about the abuse in late 1999, and he later confessed before his death.

In January, Brian Houston stepped down as the leader of Hillsong.

“Last year, I … received unexpected news of charges against me that allege the concealing of information that may have been material to prosecute Frank Houston. These allegations came as a shock to me, and it is my intention to vigorously defend them,” Houston told the church in a statement at the time. “So I have agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year.”

In a Facebook video last month, Brian Houston said he was essentially forced out of leadership with a narrative that was misleading.

“I want to be clear. The media and others incorrectly say I resigned because I breached the Hillsong code of conduct, but that’s just not true. I didn’t resign because of my mistakes. I resigned because of the announcements and statements that had been made, which Bobbie and I felt made my position untenable. And I spelled out my reasons for my resignation in my resignation letter to the Hillsong Church board,” Houston said.

A March 23 statement from Hillsong Church Global and Australian boards published on the global megachurch network’s website said Houston formally resigned as global senior pastor in the wake of revelations that two women had made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years.

Hillsong Church said Houston violated the church’s pastoral code of conduct by entering the hotel room of an unidentified woman for 40 minutes while under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs during the church’s annual conference in 2019.

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