The Sydney Morning Herald reports,
Church failed to follow procedure for sex abuse allegations, royal commission hears
A senior member of the Assemblies of God in Australia has admitted church leaders failed to follow policy in handling allegations of sexual abuse made against paedophile pastor Frank Houston.
Keith Ainge, the former national secretary of the Assemblies of God in Australia, told a royal commission on Thursday that the executive did not observe due process regarding rehabilitation for Frank Houston because “it was a new policy that was perhaps not fully understood”.
Under cross-examination he also agreed, “with the benefit of hindsight”, it was a conflict of interest to allow Frank Houston’s son, Hillsong Church founder and then national president of the Assemblies of God Brian Houston, to discipline his father.
Brian Houston suspended his father from the church at the end of 1999.
Documents tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse show that Frank Houston was later allowed to quietly retire from the church despite executive members of the Assemblies of God being aware of allegations that he sexually abused seven young boys in the 1960s.
Frank Houston, the founder of the Sydney Christian Life Centre, which merged with his son Brian’s Hills Christian Life Centre to become Hillsong Church, wrote to churchgoers in November 2000, informing them of his resignation due to “retirement”.
“I hereby wish to tender my resignation from the staff and eldership of the City Hillsong Church as I feel it is time for (my wife) Hazel and I to enter retirement,” he wrote.
“It has been a privilege to minister in the church and to work with you all.”
Minutes tendered to the commission show that at a November 2000 meeting of the senior ranks of the Assemblies of God, now known as Australian Christian Churches, it was agreed that Frank Houston should be thanked for “his immeasurable contribution to the church”.
The provision of “financial support” for Frank Houston and his wife was discussed at the same meeting.
A separate document tendered to the commission revealed that the national executive of the Assemblies of God prepared a statement regarding the allegations to be used “in response to individuals if they hear rumours and approach the executive for clarification”.
Frank Houston died in 2004. Brian Houston is expected to give evidence on Thursday afternoon.
The public hearing is examining the response of Australian Christian Churches and affiliated Pentecostal churches to allegations of child sexual abuse.
The inquiry will also look at how the Pentecostal churches addressed the case of convicted paedophile Ken Sandilands, a former teacher at Northside Christian College, now known as Encompass Church, and Sunshine Coast church youth worker Jonathan Baldwin, who was sentenced to eight years’ prison for molesting a teenage boy.
The hearing, before Justice Jennifer Coate, is expected to continue until October 17.
Source: By Rachel Browne, Church failed to follow procedure for sex abuse allegations, royal commission hears, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/church-failed-to-follow-procedure-for-sex-abuse-allegations-royal-commission-hears-20141009-113hwq.html, 09/10/2014. (Accessed 09/10/2014.)
The Australian reports,
Hillsong founder Brian Houston defends caution on sex abuse claim against father
HILLSONG Church founder Brian Houston has defended a decision not to take to police allegations his father sexually abused a boy when he first learned of them in late 1999.
Brian Houston was today questioned in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse about when he became aware of the sexual abuse claims against his father, and former senior pastor of the church, William Francis “Frank” Houston.
Brian Houston says he was first made aware of the claims by an unidentified man, known as AHA, that his father Frank Houston sexually abused him as a seven-year-old, in October 1999.
When asked by commission barrister Simeon Beckett why he did not immediately report the claims to police, Mr Houston said that it was the victim’s decision because he was by then a fully grown man, despite Mr Houston’s having no “doubt it was criminal conduct”.
“On that day? All the information I was being given was that the man was 35-36 and if the man wanted to go to the police he can … I did not have a doubt it was criminal conduct,” he said.
“If this was about someone under 18 we would have gone to the police then and there.
“Rightly or wrongly I believed I would have been pre-empting the victim at that point,” Mr Houston told the inquiry.
He also pointed out that he knew the victim and his mother, and said the man, AHA, “was extremely brittle, extremely angry that the information had come out”.
Mr Houston said he was unaware of any allegations against his father until the matter was raised with him by another senior Hills Christian Life Centre official, George Aghajanian, at a meeting between the pair in October 1999.
Mr Houston denied he had been made aware of the claims that had been raised by a pastor of the church after being alerted by AHA’s mother.
“I never saw any of these documents. Frank was dodging and weaving, and was a desperate man treading water.”
Mr Houston described how “his stomach dropped” when he was told of the claims, saying he had thought to himself “we’re not just talking about homosexuality, we’re talking about pedophilia”.
“You don’t forget when you find out that your father is a paedophile.
“George said, ‘here’s one other thing I need to talk about, not about you, about your father’. I thought this is not going to be good, my stomach dropped … Someone had rung one of the pastors in our church and started to blurt all this stuff about Frank, about Dad.
“George told me this complaint of abuse, this child sexual abuse had come in. There may have been more detail,” he told the hearing today.
Mr Houston told the commission he “dreaded” confronting his father about the abuse allegation.
“I cried, I went home. I was devastated. I was devastated, to be honest with you. Totally devastated,” he said.
Frank Houston was subsequently suspended from his work as a pastor on the advice of his own son. Frank Houston died in 2004.
Frank Houston founded the Assemblies of God Sydney Christian Life Centre after migrating from New Zealand as a pastor in 1977.
His son Brian established the Hills Christian Life Centre in northwest Sydney, and Brian went on to merge the two churches into the hugely successful Hillsong Church in 1999.
Mr Houston said he was “completely oblivious” to the allegations against his father when Frank Houston asked him to take over as head of the church in 1998, and was shocked at the “abrupt” nature of the request but “in hindsight I think we know why that is”.
“I believe that he knew that things we coming to a head, on the issues we’re talking about at the commission.”
Source: By Leo Shanahan, Hillsong founder Brian Houston defends caution on sex abuse claim against father, The Australian, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/hillsong-founder-brian-houston-defends-caution-on-sex-abuse-claim-against-father/story-e6frg6n6-1227085300844, 09/10/2014
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