NewsMegachurch Co-Founder Is Charged in Child Sexual Abuse Case

Megachurch Co-Founder Is Charged in Child Sexual Abuse Case

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Brian Houston, co-founder and senior pastor of the global megachurch Hillsong, was charged by the Australian police on Thursday with concealing child sexual abuse carried out by his father in the 1970s.

In a statement, the police alleged that Mr. Houston, now 67, “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.”

Mr. Houston’s lawyer was served a notice for his client to appear in a court in Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 5.

Mr. Houston has denied the allegations and in an emailed statement provided by the church said: “These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter. I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”

The charges stem from a 2019 criminal investigation into reports that a Hillsong church leader “knowingly concealed information about child sexual assault,” according to the police statement.

In 2014, an Australian royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse found that Mr. Houston had failed to alert police after his father, Frank Houston, confessed to him in 1999 of sexually abusing a seven-year-old boy decades earlier.

“I confronted him. He went extremely dry in the mouth and said, ‘Yes, these things did happen,’” Mr. Houston said, according to transcripts.

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The royal commission’s final report found that, “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.”

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Mr. Houston said during the royal commission hearings that he had suspended his father from preaching at the church but had not reported his behavior because the victim had asked him not to, a claim that the victim has vehemently denied.

Frank Houston established Sydney Christian Life Centre in 1977, which later merged with Hills Christian Life Centre, founded by Brian, to become Hillsong.

The church surged in popularity in the United States and around the world, attracting celebrities and young people with music and a style of preaching that emphasized positivity.

The ideal Hillsong sermon “leaves people feeling better about themselves than they came,” Mr. Houston said in his guidelines for church leaders in Australia.

That approach — known as “seeker sensitive” — has earned Hillsong a large following in urban areas like New York, where stars such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Kevin Durant have gathered at popular concert venues to participate in its Sunday services.

But scandal is not new to the church.

Last November, Mr. Houston fired Carl Lentz, the head pastor of the New York branch, for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” as Mr. Houston wrote in an email to churchgoers. Mr. Lentz later confessed on Instagram that he had been unfaithful in his marriage.

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Mr. Houston, who is usually based in Sydney, was granted a rare coronavirus travel exemption to leave Australia this year. He has recently conducted services in Mexico and is believed to be currently residing in the United States with his wife.

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His father died in 2004, and was never charged.

Damien Cave contributed reporting.

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