Church pastor kept Houston abuse report secret

Brian Houston has pleaded not guilty to concealing child sexual abuse committed by his father.

Brian Houston has pleaded not guilty to concealing child sexual abuse committed by his father. Photo: AAP

A senior church pastor told her grandnephew she would not support him reporting sexual abuse committed against him by Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s father to police, a court has heard.

Brett Sengstock has given evidence that Houston’s father, Frank Houston, sexually abused him, beginning the day before his eighth birthday in January 1970.

A NSW court this week began hearing the case against Brian Houston, 68, after he was charged with concealing a serious indictable offence of another person in August 2021.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Phillip Boulten SC, representing Houston, has told the court Frank Houston’s abuse was not being disputed.

Complainant’s mother told not to tell anyone

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.

Barbara Taylor, a pastor at Emmanuel Christian Family Church Plumpton in western Sydney since May 1977, told the court on Tuesday she found out about the abuse from Mr Sengstock’s mother, her niece, who told her not to tell anyone.

Ms Taylor noted she would no longer keep such a report secret.

She told the court she kept it in confidence until Mr Sengstock’s since-deceased mother told an evangelist who was leading a “tent crusade” on the grounds of Ms Taylor’s church, which she described as an event where people are “specifically challenged to give their lives to Jesus Christ”.

Church should have handled incident, not courts

“People were sharing their testimony of how abuse had messed up their lives. She felt she had to tell the evangelist,” Ms Taylor told Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court.

Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison asked Ms Taylor what she meant when she told Mr Sengstock she would support him reporting the abuse to the church, but not the “secular courts”.

Ms Taylor said she thought the church should have handled it.

“I believe judgment should begin at the house of God,” she told the court.

“The church should have dealt with (Frank Houston).”

Attempts at meeting ‘failed miserably’

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

Her attempts “failed miserably”, she told the court.

“I’ve been told that was the wrong thing to do and of course now we’ve been given very clear direction of what we should do … but (in the late 1990s), it was very vague,” she said.

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.

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

Word of the confession filtered back to Mr Sengstock, but he could not remember who specifically had told him.

“It was gossip everywhere,” Mr Sengstock said on Tuesday.

Reasonable excuse not to report abuse

Houston’s defence is relying on whether he had a reasonable excuse to not report his father’s abuse to police in the five years between him confessing it to his son and his death.

Mr Boulten has argued he was respecting Mr Sengstock’s wishes.

Mr Boulten asked whether he recalled Houston phoning him to say his father had confessed, and that Mr Sengstock’s wishes for privacy and no further investigation from the police or the church would be honoured.

“That’s not any conversation I recall with him at all,” Mr Sengstock said.

Houston and his wife Bobbie founded the Hills Christian Life Centre in 1983. It later merged with the Sydney branch founded by his father to become Hillsong.

The hearing continues.

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