Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston Found Not Guilty of Concealing Sexual Abuse

23 August 2023

4.6 MINS

Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court has acquitted Brian Houston over charges of not reporting his father’s child abuse to the police.

“Like jets flying into the twin towers of my soul.”

These are the words of the former pastor of Hillsong Church at the 2002 Hillsong Conference at Sydney’s Olympic Park. Though he was completely unaware of it at the time, those words would become crucial evidence 21 years later.

Here are Brian’s own words he delivered to an 18,000-strong, sombrely silent crowd in 2002:

“One of my staff came into my office and began to tell me a story where my own father, who is my hero, was accused of sexual abuse over 30 years ago when he was a pastor in New Zealand still.

“And I’ve got to tell you that what was being said left me so numb, so stunned, I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

“And I had to confront my own father, who I loved and still love, and I had to confront him with this accusation. To which he made certain confessions.

“And I, along with others, had to sack my own dad.

“And the best way I can describe this, the best way I can describe it, it was like jets flying into the twin towers of my soul.”

Sexual Abuse Revelations

Frank Houston first sexually abused a young boy in January 1970 a day before the boy turned eight.

When learning of his father’s dark past in 1999, Brian went to see his father, who confessed the sexual abuse did occur. During evidence, Brian recounted the moment that would leave any son devasted:

“He went all dry in the mouth… so I got up and got a glass of water and gave it to him.”

“He simply said ‘that did happen’. He told me it only happened once, he told me it involved fondling his genitals. He was, I think, a mix of embarrassed, humiliated, shamed, remorseful.”

Brian did not go to the police because at that time the victim, then 37-year-old Brett Sengstock, asked him not to. Houston states that Sengstock told him, “I don’t want you to go to the police. If anyone is going to go to the police, it’s going to be me.”

Mr Sengstock strongly disputes this. Prosecutors alleged that between 1999 and 2004 (when Frank died), Brian’s failure to tell the police was an attempt to “cover up” what had happened, in an effort to protect the church. But it was only in 2021 that Brian was charged with one count of “concealing the serious indictable offence of another person”.

Court Findings Vindicate Brian Houston

Magistrate Gareth Christofi handed down his findings on Thursday, 17 August. Houston’s public statements, including those words to thousands at the 2002 Sydney conference became crucial to his defence and eventual acquittal.

Christofi found that Houston’s actions were “the very opposite of a cover-up.”

The magistrate also found there was “little doubt” that Brian “knew Mr Sengstock did not want the matter reported to police”. As a result, Houston “therefore had a reasonable excuse for not bringing the matter to the attention of police.”

Evidence consistent with this verdict included Sengstock’s mother telling church leaders about the sexual abuse. Brett took this as a betrayal by his mother, which makes sense if indeed he didn’t want the childhood abuse reported.

Houston’s Sadness for the Victim

After the acquittal, Houston spoke with media outside the court and issued this statement:

“I express my sadness to Brett Sengstock, my genuine sadness about what my father did to him and all his victims. He was obviously a serial paedophile. We probably will never know the extent of the pedophilia.

“A lot of people’s lives have been tragically hurt, and for that I will always be very sad. But I am not my father. I did not commit this offence.”

A Targeted Attack Against Houston?

Houston believes he was the victim of a targeted attack, and that the charge against him was the result of pressure from the media. The fact that he went public about his father’s darkest deeds yet was accused of covering it up is mind-boggling.

Revealing a matter is the polar opposite of concealing it.

When asked about this in an interview with Andrew Bolt, Brian answered:

“I genuinely believe that if I wasn’t Brian Houston from Hillsong Church, this charge would never have happened. There were many people who were aware of the accusations about my father before I was. And none of them did anything in fact about it. I was the one who confronted my father. And I end up being the one many years later getting charged.”

Bolt followed up by asking, “Is it the anti-Christian element you are referring to here?” To which Houston replied:

“Anti-church. Anti-Christian. I think that there is hostility that comes towards, especially prominent pastors… It is a tragic blight, I think, on sections of the Australian media and sections of the Australian population.

Houston believes the media painted a negative and untruthful picture of him. The distorted portrait “was not so much about what they did say, but what they didn’t.” By omitting certain details, the story was slanted in a certain direction.

Houston’s Pain and Brokenness

Brian was clearly a broken and shattered person during the interview with Bolt. In Bolt’s words, “You do seem a bit down. You worry me a bit”.

His father’s past and the events that followed have taken a heavy toll on him. When asked about his more recent indiscretions (including the charge of drunk driving in the USA and inappropriate conduct with two female staff members), Houston answered:

“From the time in 1999 when I found out about my father, that basically framed so much of my life from that point until now… And yes, sadly… in more recent years, I didn’t handle all those particular issues well. I know a lot of the narratives out there are false, not right. I never had a sexual issue. I had a substance issue. One of those was sleeping tablets.”

“Then the sad day at a Hillsong conference which is just a night of shame. I’m just embarrassed about it. But again, it’s not what people think it is… I knocked on the wrong door. And I thought that person was in our room in the state of confusion that I was in.”

Houston is walking wounded. He is carrying pain from his father and the havoc caused ever since that evil was committed. There is brokenness in his voice.

When asked about where home is, Houston responded, “I love Australia… But Australia, in many ways, hasn’t loved us. That’s making me very sad. But it’s the truth.”

This is to take nothing away from the immense pain Sengstock has faced, nor an attempt to make any comparison.

When sin occurs, no one ever wins. When serious sin occurs, tragedy and pain are only multiplied.

Ultimately, no one knows the immense pain of the tragedy of sin than the one who took the full brunt of it 2,000 years ago.

Without that, no pain is redeemable. But with it, there’s nothing that can’t be redeemed.


Image: Screenshot of ABC News.

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  1. Jim Twelves 23 August 2023 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Sam, I am deeply moved by your most respectful report. Thank you. I think Andrew Bolt did a magnificent job in the interview, he was at his best, just as he was over the George Pell case.
    I think this acquittal needs to be trumpeted across this land and the world as a test case to show that our justice system and the legacy media that work for it are far from just. They are simply mounting an ideological assault on humanity, common decency, respect and above all against the Christian faith.

    • Kim Beazley 23 August 2023 at 8:56 am - Reply

      I agree, but where you say that this serves “to show that our justice system and the legacy media that work for it are far from just”, I think it’s fair to note that it’s the justice system that ultimately served to shine a light on the media, by being independent from vested interests, by doing exactly as it is meant to do. They should be praised, not lumped in with the guilty ones.

      • Jim Twelves 24 August 2023 at 8:08 am - Reply

        Kim, yes, fair call. But the justice system admitted the vexatious claim in the first place even if they eventually threw it out.

        • Kim Beazley 28 August 2023 at 7:34 am - Reply

          Unfortunately, Jim, it’s only in the airing of some cases that they’re found to be vexatious to whatever extent. And really, that’s how it should be. If the scales of justice leaned slightly either way there would be injustice in practice, either for the benefit of the accuser or the accused. That’s why the image of the blindfolded “Lady Justice” above courthouses is blindfolded, because verdicts cannot be arrived at until all the evidence is tabled.

          And think of the checks and balances in the system. First, the police cannot just bring a suspect before a judge and make one-sided claims on the suspect’s guilt. That’s a kangaroo court. They first have to build their evidence and present it to the public prosecutor, who then makes a judgent about the strength of the evidence. Then if it’s deemed strong enough to gain a conviction, only then does the case proceed.

          And in most cases, whatever the verdict, there is an appeals process available. Think of the case of Cardinal Pell.

          So, I think we should be thankful for a system, constructed as it is on Christian principles, which, while not always getting it right, at least has so many checks and balances.

  2. Kim Beazley 23 August 2023 at 8:51 am - Reply

    It’s so good to see the facts clarified and the truth come out. Well done, Sam! Waiting to see if there’s any response from the new Hillsong leadership as to why they hung the Houstons out to dry.

    • Jim Twelves 24 August 2023 at 8:09 am - Reply

      Kim, yet again, a very good call, thank you.

  3. Ian Moncrieff. 23 August 2023 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks Sam, and Jim Twelves. Your comments above reflect my thoughts exactly.
    I want to publicly acknowledge that Ps Brian Houston is a child of God who has achieved much through the establishment of Hillsong Church – a global organisation that has impacted the church world with inspired praise and worship, seen many poor people fed, and extended God’s kingdom through overt evangelism.

  4. bob 24 August 2023 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    So a question.

    What about the victims of the rampant sexual abuse that occured under his father and likely others?

    He found out about the abuse in 1999, and disclosed it 3 years later? Why 3 years?

    If he cared for the abused, why not tell the police
    if his actions? what consequence was their for Frank Houston? None.

    The AOG church movement is responsible for much sexual perversion, affairs, and grooming of underage adolescents all under the label of sexual abuse.

    it is responsible for thousands walking away from God, whilst covering up the sins of its leaders.

    Frank was still preaching, and even commenting inappropriately on young boys post 1999.

    It was well known in the Christian community this was occuring long before 1999, but the ‘Man of God’ had to be protected.

    Brian is reaping what he has sown. This was not an anti Christian attempt or media Christian bashing. If evidence of a crime is reported to a pastor, they should report it to the police, period.

    Maybe Brian needs more money……….because nothing will be done to rectify the damage to all those innocent children abused by Frank.

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