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Hillsong Church founder found not guilty of hiding his father's child sex crimes

Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, 69, was found not guilty on Thursday of hiding his father's sex crimes. The megachurch founder was the senior global pastor when authorities charged him two years ago in Australia, leading to his resignation months later.

Sydney Magistrate Gareth Christofi said Houston had a reasonable excuse for not taking what he knew about his father, Frank Houston, to the police. NPR reported that Christofi accepted Houston's claim that victim Brett Sengstock did not want the sexual abuse, which took place in the 1970s, reported to the police.

Hillsong founder not guilty of concealing his father's sexual abuse of a child | ABC Newswww.youtube.com

"I do not see any reason why a convenient excuse may not also be a reasonable one," Christofi said.

However, Houston did not defend his father's actions. He said his father was a "serial pedophile" and conceded that the breadth of his crimes would likely never be found out. "But I am not my father. I did not commit this offense," Houston said.

In the trial that began in December, Sengstock claimed he never told Houston not to report the abuse. He later told reporters that "Frank Houston was no pioneer for Christianity," adding that his "legacy remains a faded memory of a pedophile."

"Regardless of today's outcome, I have received a life sentence. Blaming the victim is as repulsive as the assaults themselves," Sengstock said.

Hillsong acknowledged the ruling in a statement, saying: "Our prayer is that those impacted deeply and irrevocably by the actions of Frank Houston will find peace and healing, and that our former senior pastor Brian Houston and his family can look to the future and continue to fulfill God's purpose for their lives."

Houston appeared teary-eyed outside the court, saying: "I want to express my sadness to Brett Sengstock, genuine sadness about what my father did to him and all his victims. He was obviously a serial pedophile. We probably will never know the extent of his pedophilia."

Houston first became aware of his father's abuse of then-7-year-old Sengstock in 1999. Frank confessed to the abuse and was subsequently defrocked as a pastor for the Assemblies of God. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 82. He was never charged.

Australia's News.com reported that Houston said it was like "jets flying into the twin towers of my soul" when his father told him about the sexual abuse he had committed. He shared details about his father's crimes with church leaders, but he never took the information to the authorities.

In 2022, Houston shared with the court that he was told by Sengstock not to take his knowledge of the abuse to the police during a phone conversation to discuss Frank.

"[Mr. Sengstock] was very dogmatic that he didn't want the police involved," Houston claimed. "He said, 'You are not to go to the police.' He said, 'If anyone's going to go to the police, it'll be me and I don't want to do that.'"

Houston said it was the right decision for him not to go the police, since "it was Brett's express wishes."

However, Sengstock pushed back against Houston's claim, saying he never told him not to go to the police.

Houston went on to say Sengstock appeared "paranoid" about being named to anyone within the church. Sengstock allegedly said he did not want to be part of a church investigation.

"We continued to talk, and I told him that I had no option but to disclose it to the national executive of the Assemblies of God, and then his demeanor changed," Houston said. "He got angry, sort of panicky. And he said, 'I don't want to be part of some big church investigation.'"

"He said, 'I don't want my name splashed all over the church, you know how gossipy they all are.'"

"He said, 'If strangers from the church try to contact me, I won't talk to them, I'll deny it, I'll hang up.'"

"He was just very blunt and clear he didn't want to be having any conversation with any people from the church."

"He was very concerned about his anonymity."

A 2022 television series called "Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed" appeared on Amazone Prime, revealing the dark underbelly of the immensely popular international church, including "harrowing allegations of the trauma, abuse, homophobia, and financial and labor exploitation that created a culture of chaos at" the church.

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