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Megachurch pastor steps down to fight charge of concealing father’s alleged child sexual abuse

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Brian Houston, Australian pastor and co-founder of international megachurch Hillsong, announced on Sunday that he will be stepping down from his pastoral duties for the rest of the year to fight a charge of concealing child sexual abuse by his father.

Houston, 67, told his church in a streamed video during a Sunday service that he intends to “vigorously defend” himself against allegations that he concealed child sexual abuse by his pastor father in the 1970s. At the advice of a December church board meeting and Hillsong’s external legal counsel, Houston said, it would be “best practice” for him to step away from church leadership during his court proceedings.

“The court case I am facing is related to circumstances surrounding my father, and I need to be fully committed to preparation and engagement with the case and work closely with my lawyers in defending this charge,” he said in a statement on the church’s website. “I intend to fight the charge and welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”

In October, a lawyer for Houston told a court in Sydney that he will plead not guilty to the charge of concealing a serious indictable offense of his father, Frank Houston, the Associated Press reported. Frank Houston died in 2004.

Hillsong declined to provide The Washington Post with additional comment to Houston’s statement Sunday.

The church, founded in 1983 and now spanning 30 countries, has attracted high-profile attendees such as musician Justin Bieber, professional basketball player Kevin Durant and actor Chris Pratt.

It has also been home to scandals over the past year.

In November, when Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz was fired for cheating on his wife, Houston said Lentz was let go after “ongoing discussions in relationship to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures,” the Associated Press reported.

In April, the church’s Dallas location closed amid complaints that pastors were misusing tithes, according to the New York Post.

This month, videos circulating online showed participants at a youth camp singing and dancing when Australian state New South Wales was trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, The Post reported.

An Australian state banned singing and dancing during covid. Then the Hillsong megachurch held a ‘youth camp.’

Now the church will move forward without Houston at the helm. Interim pastors have been named in his place, and his wife, Roberta “Bobbie” Houston, will remain involved in many activities, Houston told the church.

Houston told investigators in 2014 that he was aware that his father was at risk of being charged over allegations of child sex abuse, but that he declined to report him because he thought it was up to the alleged victim to determine how to move forward, The Post reported in August.

“Rightly or wrongly, I genuinely believed that I would be preempting the victim, if I were to just call the police at that point,” he testified.

Investigators concluded that he knew his father’s actions were criminal, but that he “made no attempt to report his father to the police at the time the confession was made.”

According to the inquiry’s final report, Houston confronted his father, who confessed, before the younger pastor investigated on behalf of the church. Houston later ended his father’s preaching career.

Frank Houston was never convicted of sexual abuse, allegations of which span decades.

He confessed in 2000 to sexually abusing a boy in New Zealand 30 years prior, the Guardian reported. It was also later disclosed that he had sexually abused as many as nine boys between Australia and New Zealand, the outlet reported.

After Frank Houston’s death, more accusations emerged, including one from a young man who said Houston abused him in the 1980s when he was under Houston’s care and training to become a pastor, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2007.

On Sunday, Brian Houston told his followers that he and his wife love Jesus and their church, and that they look forward to the future despite the legal battle.

“It is 50 years this week since I commenced Bible college in New Zealand,” he said. “So with five decades of active ministry behind us, be assured we will make the best of this season to replenish spiritually, emotionally and physically.”

Read more:

Founder of Hillsong global megachurch charged with concealing child sex abuse

An Australian state banned singing and dancing during covid. Then the Hillsong megachurch held a ‘youth camp.’

Governor demands to know why a court placed a now-missing girl with her ‘monster’ of a father

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