Pastor Brian Houston, the lead pastor of the global multisite Hillsong Church, has expressed his surprise at being charged with concealing sex abuse at his influential congregation.
On Thursday, police officials announced that the 67-year-old leader of the Sydney-based megachurch was being charged with “concealing child sex offenses,” The Associated Press reported.
“Police will allege in court [that Houston] 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,” stated Australian authorities, as quoted by the AP.
In a statement to The Christian Post through Hillsong, Houston expressed “shock” at the charges.
“These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,” Houston said. “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”
The church also provided a statement to CP, explaining that they were “disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and asked that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right.”
“He has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name. Given that this matter is now before the court, neither Pastor Brian or Hillsong Church will be making further statements,” Hillsong added.
Years ago, Australia issued a royal commission probe into whether Houston tried to cover-up an incident in which his late father, Frank Houston, sexually abused a minor in the 1970s.
In 2014, in response to the probe, Brian Houston denied knowing anything about the $10,000 compensation payment made to a man who his father sexually abused as a child.
Houston said he was “totally devastated” to learn about his father’s abuse and he “had to come to terms with the fact that the person I looked up to was not who I thought he was.”
The charges come not long after revelations surfaced of serious leadership problems at the United States-based Hillsong East Coast, especially regarding the financial and sexual scandals surrounding Carl Lentz, including an affair.
Other Hillsong resignations that followed Lentz included Darnell Barrett, creative director of Hillsong Church Montclair in New Jersey, and Reed and Jess Bogard from Hillsong Dallas, which has since closed.
In March, Houston apologized for scandals occurring at Hillsong East Coast, vowing to enact “sweeping changes” aimed at correcting “the issues and misalignment of the culture and practices” of the U.S. branch.
“We know that Hillsong East Coast has failed to be the kind of church it should be. On behalf of the Global Board and as Global Senior Pastor, I accept responsibility for these failings and apologize unreservedly,” said Houston earlier this year.
“As the events of last year unfolded, there was a lot we didn’t know. Now, thanks to the courage and honesty of many of you, we have a much clearer understanding of the state of Hillsong East Coast. Thank you to all of you who have enabled us to reach this place.”