Hillsong church founder Brian Houston, a personal friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has been charged with allegedly concealing historical child sex abuse.
The friendship between the pair made headlines in December 2019, when Mr Morrison made a point of trying to score Mr Houston a ‘plus-one’ invitation to dinner at the White House.
The charges laid against Mr Houston, 67, on Thursday relate to alleged child sex offences committed by his father, Frank, in the 1970s. Frank Houston died in 2004.
Frank Houston is accused of abusing up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand.
Brian Houston has vehemently professed his innocence, saying he would “set the record straight”.
“These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,” Mr Houston said.
Hillsong Church released a short statement expressing its disappointment in the charges.
The church asked he be given the presumption of innocence.
“Given that this matter is now before the court, neither Pastor Brian or Hillsong Church will be making further statements,” it said.
“We thank all who are a part of our church for their support and prayers at this time.”
Charges result of long investigation
The royal commission into institutional child sex abuse found that Brian Houston did not inform authorities of his father’s actions.
“Police will allege in court the man knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police,” NSW Police said in a statement.
Mr Houston is required to appear in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on October 5.
He’s believed to be overseas in North America, after he and wife Bobbie were given permission to leave Australia in July, to travel to the United States.
They are known to have preached at a Hillsong service in Mexico.
Morrison, Houston friends for ‘a long time’
Mr Morrison has had a long association with Mr Houston.
In his first speech to Parliament in 2008, the PM spoke of how he had been “greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders” including the Hillsong founder.
In a sermon to the Australian Christian Churches conference on the Gold Coast earlier this year, Mr Morrison noted the presence of Mr Houston, among other pastors.
“It’s like the ghost of pastors past here tonight … Brian and Bobbie, just pay you honour mate, and to Bobbie as well,” the PM said.
Mr Morrison is not a member of the Hillsong church.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the PM told TND “this is a police matter. It would be inappropriate to comment”.
In 2019, during Mr Morrison’s state visit to the US, it was reported the PM had sought an invitation for Mr Houston to attend a state dinner at the White House.
In early 2020, Mr Morrison admitted his office had “put forward a number of names that included Brian”.
“I’ve known Brian for a long time and Hillsong church has a very big network of churches all across the United States, and the ministry, when it comes to the music and so many other things have been very big – it’s probably the single largest church organisation that is known in the United States,” Mr Morrison said at the time.