Reason Hillsong founder silent on sex abuse

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WARNING: Graphic

Hillsong founder Brian Houston did not report his father’s sexual abuse of a young Sydney boy because he wanted to protect the church, prosecutors have told a court.

Mr Houston, 68 is standing trial in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court, where he is defending allegations that he failed to go to police after learning of his father Frank’s rape of a young boy in the 1970s.

Police allege Mr Houston knew from September 1999 that his father Frank Houston had sexually assaulted a seven-year-old boy at his Coogee home in 1970.

Mr Houston has pleaded not guilty to one charge of concealing the serious indictable offence of another person.

His lawyers have argued he had a “reasonable excuse” not to go to police, because the man had expressed a desire to remain anonymous and didn’t want the allegations raised with authorities.

The court was told Frank Houston, who was at the time based in New Zealand, abused the young boy while in Sydney as a travelling pastor in early 1970.

Victim Brett Sengstock told the court on Monday he was sexually assaulted by Frank Houston, who was staying at his family’s home.

He told the court his family was heavily involved in the church and he says he was pressured into silence.

At the time, Brian Houston was 17 or 18 and had no involvement or knowledge of his father’s abuse, the court was told.

Former Hillsong pastor Brian Houston is defending allegations that he failed to go to police about his father’s sexual abuse of a young boy. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw.Former Hillsong pastor Brian Houston is defending allegations that he failed to go to police about his father’s sexual abuse of a young boy. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw.

Mr Sengstock told the court that he did not disclose Frank Houston’s abuse until he was 16 years old when he told his mother, who discouraged him from telling anyone.

“I did tell my mother,” Mr Sengstock told the court.

“She thought I needed counselling. I went to see Frank (Houston) at the (Christian Life Centre) in Sydney.

“He started masturbating under the table and exposed himself and walked towards me.

“I ran out. On the way home to Coogee, I told my mother that Frank had been molesting me.

“She said to me they don’t want to be responsible for sending people to hell and turning them from the church and to shut up. That was the end of it, I didn’t say any more.”

He said he felt judgment and pressure to stay silent and keep the matter within the church.

However, Frank Houston’s abuse was exposed after Mr Sengstock’s mother told another pastor.

Mr Sengstock told the court on Monday during a meeting with Frank Houston at a McDonald’s in western Sydney in 1999, he was offered compensation and told to sign a napkin, despite not knowing what was written on it.

“There was a lot of pressure being put on me,” he said.

Mr Houston has denied covering up his father’s abuse. Picture: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images.Mr Houston has denied covering up his father’s abuse. Picture: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images.

Eventually, Frank Houston’s abuse was reported to church elders and Brian Houston around 1998.

During a meeting in 1999, the court was told, Frank Houston confessed to his son about his abuse of Mr Sengstock .

It’s alleged Brian Houston failed to tell the authorities despite believing his father had committed the assault and knowing he had information that might help a prosecution.

He is alleged to have withheld the information from September 15, 1999 to November 9, 2004, the day after Frank Houston’s death.

The prosecution pointed to transcripts of interviews that Brian Houston gave to the ABC and Ben Fordham about confronting his father about his abuse of Mr Sengstock.

The court was told that Brian Houston was defending the charges on the basis he had a “reasonable excuse” not to go to authorities because Mr Sengstock did not wish to make a statement to police.

His defence barrister Phillip Boulten SC told the court that Brian Houston had made public statements and thousands of people were aware of his father’s offending, including police.

“There were something like tens of thousands of people who knew Frank Houston had abused a boy or boys when he was a pastor 30-something years before,” Mr Boulten said.

“Those people, not just limited to people who attended church … Even in the charge period the accused was interviewed by the media and it was in the media that his father had committed offences against boys.”

Frank Houston died in 2004. Picture: SuppliedFrank Houston died in 2004. Picture: Supplied

Mr Boulten further told the court that Mr Sengstock, who was by then 36 years old, had told Brian Houston that he did not want the matter raised with police.

However, the Crown prosecution said the complainant denied ever telling Brian Houston that he did not want to make a statement to police.

“The prosecution case is that he didn’t report, not because of what the complainant wanted, but because of other reasons … The primary prosecution case is the reason he didn’t report it was to protect his father and the church,” Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison said.

The hearing before magistrate Gareth Christofi continues.

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