Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has been found not guilty of concealing his father’s child sex crimes in a case in Australia. Houston, 69, was charged two years ago with concealing a serious indictable offense related to his father, Frank Houston. The Sydney-based church’s senior global pastor at the time, Houston resigned from his church roles months later.
Sydney Magistrate Gareth Christofi ruled that Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting his father’s offenses to the police. The magistrate accepted Houston’s belief that the victim, Brett Sengstock, did not want the abuse, which occurred in the 1970s, to be reported to the authorities. Sengstock testified during the trial that he never told Houston not to report the abuse.
Outside the court, Sengstock expressed his disappointment with the verdict, stating that it blamed him for the church’s failure to report Frank Houston to the police. Houston appeared teary-eyed when speaking to the media and expressed his sadness for what his father had done to Sengstock and other victims.
The magistrate noted that regardless of what Sengstock told Brian Houston, Houston had been informed of Sengstock’s attitude by others. Christofi emphasized the importance of victims feeling safe to confide in others without fear of exposing them to criminal offenses.
Hillsong Church acknowledged the ruling in a statement, expressing their hope for healing and peace for those impacted by Frank Houston’s actions. The church also extended its support to Brian Houston and his family.
Brian Houston became aware of his father’s abuse of Sengstock in 1999 when Sengstock was seven years old. Frank Houston confessed to the abuse and was defrocked as an Assemblies of God pastor. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 82 without facing charges. Brian Houston shared information about his father’s crimes with church leaders but did not report them to the police.
Prosecutors argued that Houston had used vague language when publicly discussing his father’s abuse and removal as a minister. However, the magistrate found that Houston’s meaning was obvious, and his openness about the abuse indicated that he wanted people to know what had happened, ruling out any cover-up.
The charge against Brian Houston followed the findings of a 2015 Australian government inquiry into institutional responses to allegations of child sex abuse. The inquiry revealed that Frank Houston had been allowed to retire quietly in response to his crimes.