Brian Houston trial: Hillsong founder denies blaming victim

Despite admitting to molesting a child in 1970 and having his preaching credentials stripped of him, pedophile Frank Houston was still given a retirement package when he left the church, his son Brian Houston told a court.

Hillsong founder Brian Houston is fighting allegations in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court he concealed his father’s sexual abuse of a then seven-year-old boy more than 50 years ago.

Brett Sengstock was sexually assaulted by Frank Houston, who was at the time a travelling preacher based in New Zealand, inside his family’s Coogee home in January 1970.

Mr Houston, 68, vehemently denies the claims and says his decision to not go to police when he learnt of his father’s offending in October 1999 did not amount to a cover up.

He pleaded not guilty to one count of concealing a serious indictable offence and says his actions were reasonable given his father’s victim, as an adult, later told him he wanted to remain anonymous and did not want to go to authorities.

At the end of his third day in the witness stand, Mr Houston revealed his father was given a retirement package more than a year after he admitted to the offending.

The court heard the package was going to “financially look after” Frank and Hazel Houston.

The retirement letter was tabled at an elder’s meeting, where Mr Houston conceded the thought “would have crossed his mind” that his father couldn’t retire from a job he had been fired from.

“He had been fired from preaching, had his credentials taken, he’d been asked to leave Hillsong … this was an attempt to sign him off as an administrator,” Mr Houston said.

Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison suggested he was being allowed to “quietly retire” with no public announcement being made he was an “admitted pedophile”.

“What I’m suggesting to you is, what is clear from this meeting, Frank was being allowed to resign quietly,” Mr Harrison said.

Mr Houston said his mother was “foremost in people’s thoughts” when it came to the financial package as she had worked her whole life at the church and was not accused of any wrongdoing.

He said he couldn’t explain the motivation of the board, only that they wanted to look after his mother.

Mr Harrison suggested it was an attempt to “conceal the true reason Frank was leaving”.

“I don’t believe there was any attempt to conceal Frank’s pedophilia,” Mr Houston said.

“Frank had been gone from the church for almost 12 months.”

Earlier in the day Mr Houston said claims he blamed the victim were “absurd”.

During the proceedings, Mr Sengstock gave evidence that he had a phone conversation with Brian Houston, who was defending his father and told him “you tempted my father”.

Mr Sengstock told the court he was “shocked” by the allegation.

But on Monday, Brian Houston said the claim was “absurd” and he wasn’t defending Frank Houston.

“It’s nonsense, who would say that about a seven-year-old boy,” he said.

“It’s just an absurd notion.”

Brian Houston told the court he respected the victim’s wishes by not reporting the matter to police.

Frank Houston was stripped of his credentials as a pastor for the Assemblies of God and died in November 2004.

Mr Harrison suggested Brian Houston never went to police because he was attempting to conceal the matter from them.

He responded simply: “That’s not right.”

But he did concede he had “free will” to report the matter to police but ultimately chose not to.

“When you exercised your free will to report this to the national executive (of the AoG) and not to police, the church was the ultimate authority for you in the matter,” Mr Harrison suggested.

Brian Houston said: “I didn’t compare the police and church about who were the ultimate authority.”

He continuously denied putting the “interests of the church” first, saying it would have been “resilient” if the “scandal” was made public.

Brian Houston accepted if the allegation was made public, the church’s reputation might have been damaged.

“(I tried) to protect more than the church, to protect Brett, to protect all of the parties, myself and I guess the church,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Harrison asked why he didn’t “go to police and disclose the allegation” his father admitted to molesting Mr Sengstock without “disclosing his identity”.

“I knew I had no option but to talk to church authorities, I believe Brett’s wishes should be respected when it came to the police,” he told the court.

He was further questioned by magistrate Gareth Christofi, who asked in “what sense” did he have no option.

Brian Houston said it would have “been a cover up” if he had done nothing after he was told of the incident and knew it was “always a possibility” his father could go to jail “until the day he died”.

“My intention was to never ever be guilty of a cover up,” he said.

Mr Christofi questioned further: “Did you ever say to Brett in these conversations, if you do want to go to the police, the church will support you?”

“I don’t remember using those words but I certainly did not in any way try to inhibit his ability to go to the police,” Brian Houston answered.

Mr Christofi tried again: “You believe Brett … wanted the matter to remain confidential.”

Brian Houston told the court that Mr Sengstock wanted “control” and thought he had “lost control” when his mother disclosed the information.

“He didn’t want to lose more power or control on his own life,” he said.

Brian Houston’s Hills Christian Life Centre would later merge with Frank Houston’s Sydney Christian Life Centre to become Hillsong.

The trial continues.

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