There is no question that the National Executive of the Assemblies of God Australia covered up Frank Houston's sex crimes against children. Yesterday's report released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse outlines the way in which Hillsong leader Brian Houston mishandled the investigation into his own father's sexual crimes against children.
The full report is here and the media have highlighted the conflict of interest that existed when Houston jr as the President of the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in 1999 then confronted his father. The report also admonishes Brian and the AOG Executive for failing to report the matter to the police.
There is no question that the leaders covered up what they knew. The documents Hillsong tendered to the Royal Commission in 2014 minute it specifically. That Frank, founder of the church that became Hillsong, had committed such crimes was not the issue. The prayer and concern was for the Houstons. But we'll talk about that in a minute.
The outrageous part is that in all the years following, you'd hope there'd be some kind of recognition of responsibility, some transparency, some ongoing apology even for no better reason that great PR. Yet denial and refusal to think of victims first is still the way Hillsong responds. Wasn't us. A long time ago. Not our problem.
Nobody has ever denied this would be hard for Brian Houston. To have to confront your own father about child sex crimes would be a living nightmare, especially Frank Houston, who claimed to have raised the dead. The power Houston Sr. wielded over congregations and his family is indescribable. But Brian knows that to whom much is given, much will be required. And he's been given a whole lot of much.
So let's look at how Hillsong media (Brian) responded to yesterday's report:
Hillsong Church supports the objectives of the Royal Commission and our hopes and prayers are that this will help bring peace to those who have been abused, and that there will be a dramatic change in the way abuse allegations are dealt with, particularly by those institutions that have previously let down those in their care.
It would be ridiculous for Hillsong NOT to support the Royal Commission. There's also an easier way to "bring peace to those who have been abused" and that's to acknowledge them, apologise to them, attempt to compensate them, and focus on making sure it never happens again. But here it only talks about "those institutions"
This Royal Commission did not directly involve Hillsong Church. The abuse committed by the late Frank Houston, the father of our senior pastor Brian Houston, occurred many years before Hillsong church existed, when he was a credentialed Assemblies of God minister in New Zealand.
Yes it did. The Royal Commission required Brian Houston to explain how he responded to finding out his father had abused boys when Brian was head of Hillsong in 1999, where Frank was still preaching up until May of that year. Frank had started Sydney Christian Life Centre. Under that umbrella, Brian started Hills Christian Life Centre in Baulkham Hills which changed its name to Hillsong. That rose by any other name was the same rose.
The abuse occurred in Coogee in Sydney, when Frank would visit from NZ. Either the suggestion is that the abuse occurred in New Zealand or that Frank was only credentialed in New Zealand. Either way, the distancing of Hillsong from their founding father is sad and deliberately misleading. As well as this, several others have since come forward and abuses took place by Frank at least into the 90s if not beyond, while he was at the helm of the church that became Hillsong.
We note that the findings of the Royal Commission contain the same information that was dealt with during the hearings, about which Pastor Brian spoke extensively both within the Commission and to media at the time.
We are confident that the actions of Pastor Brian, from the moment he discovered the news about his father, were done with the best intentions towards the victim. The findings of the Royal Commission confirmed that his actions resulted in the perpetrator being immediately removed from ministry.
Interestingly, Frank had been retired in the May of 1999, whether because his dementia or his crimes were becoming too apparent. However, when the special meeting was held in the Qantas Club of the executive board members on the 22 December 1999, the minutes as tendered to the Royal Commission state that
"F. Houston's credentials to be withdrawn forthwith
He be invited to enter the AoG restoration program
He refrain from public ministry for 12 months
He not receive his credential until the NSW Superintendent recommends to the National Exectuive at the expiration of at least 2 years
He be offered counselling support if required."
There is no indication here that Frank was to be permanently removed.
It should be emphasised that Pastor Brian is not a perpetrator of abuse, has never been accused of abuse, and took immediate action to expose and stop a child abuser.
Why should this be emphasised? I would hope it was a given that Brian is not a child abuser, though many have written about other forms of abuse they believe he has enacted upon them, verbal, financial, spiritual... It's disappointing to see that Brian is once again the superman and centre of the story. Not the victims. Again.
Here are the facts that are indisputable and were part of the evidence given at the Commission by both Pastor Brian and the victim of his father:
- The victim was a 36 year old adult when this abuse became known and could have taken the matter to police himself at any time.
- The victim did not want Pastor Brian or others to go to the police or to make this matter public.
- At no time did Pastor Brian attempt to dissuade anyone – including the victim – from going to police.
- Pastor Brian immediately reported the abuse to each board member of Sydney CLC and also the executive of the Assemblies of God, the denomination that issued the ministry credentials for Frank Houston.
- The perpetrator, Frank Houston, was immediately removed from ministry by Pastor Brian and church leadership and never ministered in the church again, ensuring no child was placed in danger. He is now deceased.
The only thing that's indisputable about this is that Frank is dead. Whether or not the victim/s wanted to go to the police is still a matter for conjecture. How immediately the actions took place is highly debatable, as is how many other children were put at risk.
Frank was moved to another church. They were told to treat him like royalty and were not informed of his back ground. Hillsong continued to pay his bills and accommodation until he died 5 years after the admission.
The statement the Executive made to AoG churches around Australia dated 8 December 2000 refers to a "serious moral failure" that Frank had admitted to that took place 30 years prior.
This statement, tendered to the Commission says:
"Frank has accepted that he can no longer minister and we would request that you not invite him to engage in any public ministry. At the same time we would encourage you to extend love and care to Frank, his wife and his family. "
But if the cover up wasn't clear enough, the PS has to be:
Note: This statement has been prepared as a response to individuals if they hear rumours and approach the Executive for clarification.It will only be used publicly if rumours become so extensive that the National Executive makes a decision to make a public statement or if Frank Houston fails to fulfil his commitment to abstain from all public ministry. Neither the Australian or the New Zealand Executive will publish this statement without reference to the other.
In terms of the findings of a “potential or perceived” conflict of interest, it is easy to look back many years with hindsight, however Pastor Brian acted in the best way he felt at the time and took decisive and immediate action against his own father.
Whether or not Brian knows what a conflict of interest is remains to be seen. No one has, well before the Royal Commission anyway, told him he couldn't have whatever he wanted. But I guess as long as he did what he felt best, that's all the victims need.
And all the reassurance anyone would need that kids are safe there today. As long as Brian's doing what he feels is best, everything should be A-OK.
Please keep yourself and your kids out of Hillsong. They lied then. They're lying now. And they'll lie when it comes to you.