Pastor ignored by ‘well respected’ abuser

Brian Houston won't be paid costs after his acquittal on a charge of concealing his father's abuse.

Brian Houston won't be paid costs after his acquittal on a charge of concealing his father's abuse. Photo: AAP

A Sydney church leader who tried to organise meetings between her grand-nephew and the celebrity pastor who sexually abused him as a child, instead of reporting it to police, says her relative was “livid” when people began finding out about it.

Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court is hearing the case against Hillsong founder Brian Houston, 68, who is accused of concealing abuse committed by his father Frank Houston.

Houston has pleaded not guilty to concealing a serious indictable offence of another person after being charged in August 2021, following a NSW Police investigation.

His barrister Phillip Boulten SC has told the court Houston had a reasonable excuse to not report the matter, believing the survivor of his father’s abuse did not want it investigated.

Brett Sengstock has told the court Frank Houston began sexually abusing him the night before his eighth birthday in January 1970.

Mr Sengstock said he first told his mother in the late 1970s, when he was a teenager, on the way home from a counselling session with Frank Houston, where the pastor had performed a sex act under a table.

His mother later told her aunt Barbara Taylor, pastor at Emmanuel Christian Family Church Plumpton in Sydney’s west since May 1977.

Ms Taylor told the court her niece swore her to secrecy.

After her niece disclosed the abuse to an evangelist leading an event at Ms Taylor’s church in the late 1990s, the pastor told others within the church, without initially revealing the allegation was against Frank Houston.

“He was so well respected and I had nothing in writing, just an accusation,” Ms Taylor told the court on Tuesday, noting she would no longer keep such a report of abuse quiet.

Ms Taylor said she tried to facilitate meetings between Frank Houston and Mr Sengstock, and sought advice from others within the Pentecostal church movement.

Frank Houston had “more or less ignored” her, Ms Taylor said, attributing it to her church’s smaller congregation, compared to his flock of thousands.

The court has heard Brian Houston confronted his father in late 1999, who confessed, before his death in 2004.

At a meeting with Houston and Australian Christian Churches NSW president John McMartin, Ms Taylor was told Frank Houston would be stood down and receive counselling.

She did not think that was happening after hearing about Frank Houston preaching in Canberra shortly afterwards.

“Nothing was really being done about Brett’s case,” she told the court on Wednesday.

She followed up with Houston, who told her to make any future contact with him directly via phone and “not to share anything with the girl at the front desk”, Ms Taylor said.

The evangelist had previously “blurted out information to the girl who put calls through” to Houston, she told the court.

“I thought it was a reasonable request,” Ms Taylor said.

Mr Boulten suggested to Ms Taylor that she had accurately believed Frank Houston had sexually abused Mr Sengstock, but he didn’t want to do anything about it.

“(Mr Sengstock) was livid actually, that it had been exposed,” Ms Taylor said.

“But I understand that this is common with people who suffer like this … they don’t want it exposed.”

Mr Boulten has argued Houston was respecting Mr Sengstock’s wishes not to report it to police, however Mr Sengstock disputed ever telling Houston that.

In a contemporaneous note by Ms Taylor, read to the court on Wednesday, she said Mr Sengstock was “vacillating” regularly on the issue.

The hearing continues.


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