Hillsong founder Brian Houston has told a court he has “no doubt” his father Frank Houston was a “serial paedophile” during the 1960s and ’70s and was horrified to find out there were multiple victims.
Brian Houston, 68, on Monday took to the witness stand in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court where he continues to deny allegations 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.
Brian Houston said his decision not to go to police when he learnt of his father’s offending in October 1999 did not amount to a cover up.
He has pleaded not guilty to one count of concealing a serious indictable offence. He 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.
Brian Houston told the court while it had been 23 years since the offending, he “very recently” was told of new allegations.
“There’s an allegation about Frank from much earlier, when I was a very young boy, in a boys home he worked in as a Salvation Army officer,” he told the court.
“I have no doubt now my father was a serial pedophile and we’ll probably never know the extent of it.”
He said in hindsight, the church’s responses to his father’s offending were not acceptable.
Magistrate Gareth Christofi asked Brian Houston whether he thought “people really ought to know (about his father) … because it’s potentially dangerous for them not to know”.
Brian Houston replied: “I didn’t at this time think my father was still a danger because of his age and health.”
When asked about his mother’s reaction, the Hillsong founder said she never “really understood” the gravity of her husband’s actions.
“She was from a different generation, she had her head in the sand,” he said.
“There was tension between my mother and I because of the role I was taking… I remember saying to her one time, she was complaining about Frank being treated too harshly and I said, ‘Mum, it’s not just immoral, it’s criminal’.”
“She never got the difference.”
Earlier on Monday, Brian Houston said his father assured him the incident was a “one-off incident at a time when he was emotionally low”.
The court was told the older Houston agreed to pay Mr Sengstock money in what the Hillsong founder described as a “feeble attempt to try and right a wrong”.
Brian Houston said his father was “embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated and depressed”.
For himself, the entire situation was “soul destroying”, he told the court.
“It was traumatic,” he said.
While his father told him multiple times the incident was a “one-off”, Brian Houston revealed he later found it was a lie.
By late 2000, Brian Houston became aware rumours were swirling about similar allegations in New Zealand.
“I got a phone call from a pastor called Wayne Hughes and he told me … there was a man who was going to be in Sydney who wanted to have a meeting with me about my father,” Mr Houston said.
“My stomach dropped again because I thought he was going to tell me another story about abuse.”
Brian Houston met with the man, who told him he had been abused at the Houstons’ house in Wellington when he was 14.
“I was re-devastated all over again, I realised my father hadn’t been truthful to me and it was bigger than a one-off-incident in Sydney,” Brian Houston said.
The court was told Frank Houston later confessed to “multiple” incidents.
The Hills Christian Life Centre would later merge with Frank Houston’s Sydney Christian Life Centre to become Hillsong.
The trial continues.