Hillsong founder Brian Houston to plead not guilty to concealing sexual abuse charge

The Hillsong founder Brian Houston will plead not guilty to charges alleging he concealed child sexual abuse by his late father in the 1970s.

The megachurch founder did not appear during a first mention of the case at Sydney’s Downing Centre local court on Tuesday morning.

Houston’s lawyer told the court Houston would plead not guilty.

Police have alleged Houston was aware of information relating to the sexual abuse of a young man in the 1970s, and that he failed to raise the issue with authorities.

Court documents state that police allege Houston concealed his father’s alleged “indecent assault of a male” from 1 September 1999 to 9 November 2004.

His father died on 8 November 2004, without having been charged over the alleged abuse.

The documents allege Houston believed his father “committed that offence and knowing that he had information that might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution of Frank Houston for that offence, without reasonable excuse, failed to bring that information to the attention of the NSW police force”.

The matter has been adjourned until 23 November.

In early August, New South Wales police announced they had charged Houston with knowingly concealing information related to alleged child sexual offences.

“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 at the time.

There is no suggestion Houston was involved in offending against the child.

Shortly after he was notified of the charges, Houston stepped down as company director of Hillsong.

Houston and his wife Bobbie had been living in the US when police charged him, and it was reported he flew back to Australia and finished their hotel quarantine stay last week.

Houston remains global senior pastor of the church he founded with his wife Bobbie in Sydney’s Hills district in 1983. The movement has grown internationally in recent years, with 131 churches in 30 countries.

In a statement released in August after being charged, Houston said the allegation came “as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter”.

“I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight,” he said at the time.

In 2015, police began investigating the allegations of concealing the abuse after Australia’s royal commission into child sexual abuse heard that Houston’s late father, Frank Houston, had abused up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand. The elder Houston died in 2004.

In 2020, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, confirmed he asked the Trump administration, when being hosted for a state visit the year earlier, to invite Houston to a dinner at the White House, however he was ultimately not invited.

At the time, Morrison said: “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.”

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