11 Oct 2014

Pastor's son denies abuse cover-up

2:19 pm on 11 October 2014

The son of a pastor who sexually molested boys in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s, says he did all he could to ensure the allegations were investigated when they first came to light in 1999.

Brian Houston, who heads the Hillsong Church in Sydney, appeared this week before the Australian Royal Commission into institutional child abuse to talk about his late father, Frank Houston.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand last night, Mr Houston said after he was told of the first allegation 15 years ago, he confronted his father, who admitted it was true.

He said as the national president of the Assemblies of God movement at the time, he felt it was his responsibility to deal with the situation and he sacked his father as a minister.

He said there was no attempt to cover up the allegations within the church and it was openly discussed.

However, his father's first known victim, by then in his mid-30s, was "very emotionally brittle" and furious that his mother had made the matter public, Mr Houston said.

"He was adamant he didn't want either the church or the police or civil authorities to investigate and he was, at that time now, 36-37 years old. I genuinely believed that if he wanted to go to the police, he could. We certainly never encouraged him not to go to the police."

"If it was today, knowing all I know, and laws have changed, it would be our duty to take it to the police."

Total number of victims unknown

Brian Houston said a year later, he was contacted by a New Zealander, who told him he had been abused by Mr Houston's father as a child more than 30 years previously.

Mr Houston said he then learned of "rumours circulating in New Zealand for at least two or three years" about his father.

A group of church leaders from Australia went to New Zealand on a fact-finding mission and then put more allegations to Frank Houston, who admitted most of them.

"He sort of said he couldn't remember some of them but it probably happened or possibly happened and there were others he confirmed did happen."

Mr Houston said the matter was then handed over to the New Zealand church to deal with, and he does not know what was or was not done. He said the total number of his father's victims may never be known.

Mr Houston said his father paid compensation to the Australian victim and to at least one other in New Zealand.

He died in 2004 aged 82 without ever facing criminal charges.

Frank Houston's last years 'miserable'

Brian Houston said the last five years of his father's life were "miserable".

"I don't know whether he ever fully understood the extent of the damage he had caused. I hope he did. I don't know whether he realised but any day he could be charged with serious crimes. But you know, ultimately, five years later he died, and my mother died. I feel like they both died of a broken heart."

Mr Houston said the pain and humiliation for his whole family continues today but their pain was not to be compared with the suffering of his father's victims in New Zealand.