Confusion over whether to report Houston sex abuse

Brian Houston has avoided telling a court whether he thought his father should have been jailed.

Brian Houston has avoided telling a court whether he thought his father should have been jailed. Photo: AAP

Hillsong’s general manager has told a court hearing it was not his responsibility to inform police about a report of child sexual abuse against senior pastor Frank Houston.

George Aghajanian said there was confusion about what was legally required at a November 2000 meeting discussing the allegations.

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

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.

Abuse began night before eighth birthday

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.

The Hills Christian Life Centre where Brian Houston was senior pastor, and the Sydney Christian Life Centre where Frank Houston had been senior pastor, did not exist at the time of the offence, Mr Aghajanian told the court on Wednesday.

The two churches later merged to become Hillsong, which grew into a global megachurch.

Allegation passed on to Brian Houston

Mr Aghajanian said he first heard of the accusation from an evangelist in October 1999 and passed it on to Houston, his boss, at the end of one of their regular meetings later that day.

He felt Houston was shocked and had not previously heard about it.

Mr Sengstock said he first told his mother about the abuse in the late 1970s, who later told her aunt Barbara Taylor, pastor at Emmanuel Christian Family Church at Plumpton in Sydney’s west.

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

Months after Ms Taylor learned of the abuse, her niece disclosed it to the evangelist.

Senior church figures thought it a historical issue

Asked why the allegation was not reported to police, Mr Aghajanian told the court on Wednesday more senior church figures considered it a historical issue, and thought a report did not need to be made.

The court has heard Brian Houston confronted his father about the abuse 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.

Don’t share information with ‘girl at front desk’

She followed up with Houston in July 2000, 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.

Mr Boulten suggested Ms Taylor 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 is scheduled to continue until December 22.


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