Following a two-year investigation, the founder of Hillsong megachurch – Brian Houston – has been charged with concealing information about child sexual abuse.
The charges relate to Mr Houston failing to report the historic alleged abuse of a young male by his late father — Frank Houston.
After the news broke, the board of Hillsong wrote to the church's followers asking for their founder to be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process.
The matter is listed for Mention at Downing Centre on 5 October 2021.
Concealing a Serious Indictable Offence
Brian Houston has been charged with concealing a serious indictable offence pursuant to Section 316 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
The maximum penalty varies depending on the type of offence that is alleged to have been concealed. However, all offences under this section carry a term of imprisonment. Below are the possible maximum penalties:
(a) 2 years imprisonment if the maximum penalty for the serious indictable offence is not more than 10 years imprisonment, or
(b) 3 years imprisonment if the maximum penalty for the serious indictable offence is more than 10 years imprisonment but not more than 20 years imprisonment, or
(c) 5 years imprisonment if the maximum penalty for the serious indictable offence is more than 20 years imprisonment.
The maximum penalty for sexual intercourse with child ranges from 10 years imprisonment to life imprisonment.
Brian Houston is accused of concealing his father's abuse of a child in the 1970s. Mr Houston says he intends to fight the charge.
A NSW Police spokesperson said, "Police will allege in court the man 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."
Following consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), Mr Houston's criminal lawyers were served with a court attendance notice requiring the pastor to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on 5 October 2021.
Allowed to Leave Australia
The evangelist preacher was granted permission by the Australian government to travel to the United States. This was despite the Australian border being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is understood that Mr Houston has been living there for several months and has continued preaching.
In July 2021 Mr Houston preached at a service in Mexico. He also gave a sermon from California on 1 August 2021, which was streamed live.
Frank Houston Child Abuse
Frank Houston was accused of abusing nine boys while he was a Pentecostal preacher several decades ago.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard Frank Houston admitted to abusing young boys in Australia and New Zealand before his death in 2004.
The Commission found 67-year-old Brian Houston had failed to report Frank Houston's abuse when his father confessed to it in 1999.
Frank Houston was allowed to retire from the church before the abuse became public.
In 2019, police in The Hills district in north-west Sydney launched an investigation into the alleged cover-up.
Brian Houston Denies Allegations
Brian Houston released a statement stating he would "set the record straight", concerning the allegations.
"These charges have come as a shock to me...I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight."
Board Responds to Hillsong Scandal 2021
The board of megachurch wrote to supporters following the Hillsong Scandal 2021 involving Brian Houston.
As well as offering comfort, they attacked the media reporting of Mr Houston's handling of his late father's sexual abuse of children.
In an email sent to Hillsong members on Friday, the Australian board of the church said the, "charges relate to many years ago when Pastor Brian found out about his father's actions" in 1999.
"We have always been open and transparent with the church about his father Frank, and Pastor Brian has shared his pain with you many times over the past twenty years. As you are aware, this matter has been ongoing since the Royal Commission in 2014 and has been the subject of much media speculation – most of it inflammatory and much of it inaccurate."
The Hillsong board also stated that they could not comment on the details of the allegations due to the court proceedings. However, they asked members to afford Mr Houston the presumption of innocence and due process.
"At this time is it comforting to know that God is in control of every situation, and as we bring you this update, we do so in the knowledge that He alone is our strength and our help," the board wrote.
Brian Houston's Possible Defence to Criminal Charge
Brett Sengstock, one of the survivors of Frank Houston's abuse previously publicly condemned Brian Houston.
Mr Houston has responded to this, advising that Mr Sengstock asked him not to inform police.
This may ground a defence to the charge as under Section 316(1A) of the Crimes Act 1900, a person has a reasonable excuse for failing to bring information to the attention of a member of the NSW Police Force or other appropriate authority if:
(a) the information relates to a sexual offence or a domestic violence offence against a person (the "alleged victim"), and
(b) the alleged victim was an adult at the time the information was obtained by the person, and
(c) the person believes on reasonable grounds that the alleged victim does not wish the information to be reported to police or another appropriate authority.
It should however be noted that this was denied by Mr Sengstock.
Mr Houston has said that other people knew of the abuse before he did. He also claims that when he found out, he confronted his father and reported it to the church organisations in which Frank Houston was involved.
Who is Brian Houston?
Brian Houston is the co-founder of the megachurch known as Hillsong. He established the evangelical church in Sydney in 1983.
Brian Houston and Scott Morrison
Brian Houston is a friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a committed Pentecostal Christian.
In 2019 Mr Morrison put Mr Houston's name forward to be invited to a White House state dinner with former US president Donald Trump.
Speaking to radio station 2GB in March last year, Mr Morrison said Hillsong was a large and respected organisation in the US and, "so well known that Brian was actually at the White House a few months after I was".
Sexual Intercourse with Child Charges
It is important to be aware that Brian Houston is not charged with child sexual assault. He is only charged with concealing a serious indictable offence. However, the serious indictable offence is likely to be some from indecent assault or child sexual assault.
As such, the maximum penalty for this offence will determine the maximum penalty for the pastor's alleged offence.
Section 66A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) sets out that if you engage in sexual intercourse with a child, you can be guilty of an offence.
You can fight a sexual intercourse with a child charge in two ways. Firstly, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt:
- You had sexual intercourse with the alleged victim; and
- The alleged victim was a child
You can be found 'Not Guilty' in the following situations:
- Honest and reasonable mistake: if you are charged with 'Sexual intercourse with child between 14-16 years', it is a defence that you held an honest and reasonable belief that the alleged victim was above the legal age of consent;
- Identification: The Crown cannot establish beyond reasonable doubt that you were the offender;
Consent is not a defence as a child cannot give consent to sexual activity of any kind.
Child sexual assault charges are extremely serious. The stigma that comes with them is likely to follow a person for the rest of their life.
That is why it is important to obtain advice from a specialist sexual assault lawyer who has successfully defended hundreds of these charges. Call Astor Legal on (02) 7804 2823. Or, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An offence of 'Sexual intercourse with child between 14-16 years' carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment of 10 years. There is no standard non-parole period (SNPP).
The maximum penalty for 'Sexual intercourse with child between 10-14 years' carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 16 years. The standard non-parole period is 7 years imprisonment.
Looking at statistics for child sexual assault sentencing over the last 5 years, it is unsurprising to see that over 80% of persons found guilty of sexual intercourse with a child were sentenced to full-time imprisonment. You can view come recent cases where defendants were found 'not guilty' for child sexual assault charges here.
Plainly, jail is very likely for this offence. Recent sentencing amendments have done away with suspended sentences, which further increased the likelihood of a term of imprisonment being imposed if you are found or plead guilty.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.