Hillsong manager denies abuse ‘cover up’

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

Hillsong’s general manager says it was his job to make sure the church complied with NSW laws, but he didn’t inform authorities about disciplinary action taken against senior pastor Frank Houston following reports of child sexual abuse.

George Aghajanian was previously the business manager of the Hills Christian Life Centre, beginning in 1994.

Founded by Brian Houston, the centre later merged with the Sydney branch founded by his father Frank Houston to become Hillsong, which grew into a global megachurch.

Houston, 68, has pleaded not guilty in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court to concealing a serious indictable offence of another person, relating to his father.

Mr Aghajanian told the court on Wednesday he believed he was the first person to tell Houston about reports of abuse committed by his father against Brett Sengstock, beginning in January 1970.

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

Resuming evidence on Thursday, Mr Aghajanian was asked by Houston’s barrister Phillip Boulten SC whose job it was to make sure the church complied with NSW statutory obligations.

“Ultimately, the buck would have stopped with myself,” he said.

But the reports of abuse committed by Houston were not reported to authorities because it was not a “current matter”, he told the court.

“Our understanding of our requirements was to report something that could be potentially an imminent danger,” he said on Thursday.

The reported abuse was committed decades earlier and predated the church itself, he said.

Mr Sengstock told the court he first told his mother about the abuse in the late 1970s, when he was a teenager.

Towards the late 1990s she told her aunt, also a church pastor, and then told an evangelist, the court has heard.

The evangelist then accused the church of not acting upon the report in October 1999, Mr Aghajanian said on Wednesday.

“He made the allegation we knew about this matter and were covering it up,” he told the court.

He denied that allegation on Thursday.

“There wasn’t a cover up. I received an allegation and I reported it to my boss,” he said.

“We had no evidence of Frank Houston offending in this manner prior to receiving that allegation.”

Mr Aghajanian told Houston about the report later on the same day he heard it from the evangelist, at the end of one of their regularly scheduled meetings.

He said he believed Houston was hearing it for the first time.

“He had a shocked expression on his face,” Mr Aghajanian said on Wednesday.

“I left that meeting thinking it was the first time he heard something about that.”

Mr Boulten has told the court Houston had a reasonable excuse to not report the matter.

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

Mr Boulten has told the court potentially tens of thousands of people knew about the reports of abuse committed by Frank Houston.

Mr Aghajanian said a letter to ordained ministers describing Frank Houston losing his church credentials would have been sent to at least 1100 people.

Houston also spoke about learning of his father’s abuse at a 2002 Hillsong conference that would have had at least 18,000 in attendance, and was likely broadcast on television as well, Mr Aghajanian said.

The hearing continues.


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