“Hillsong Church founder and leader Brian Houston has relived the day he discovered Hillsong’s nasty secret — that his father was a paedophile — and has again defended his decision not to tell police about it.
Houston, 61, speaks in detail about his actions on that day, why he did not report his father, and how his struggle with the revelation saw him spiral into depression and sleeping pill dependency.
“He was a paedophile. My dad was a paedophile. I can say it now. I have sort of come to grips with it now. But I do sort of find myself carrying the can for stuff that had nothing to do with me,” Brian Houston tells Inside Story in an interview to air on Thursday night.
“This was not my crime. I didn’t do this. I hate paedophilia. And I mean it. I hate paedophilia with a passion.”
Houston’s father, William Francis ‘Frank’ Houston, who co-founded Hillsong with his son, in 2000 confessed to sexually abusing a boy in New Zealand 30 years earlier.
Brian Houston dismissed him immediately from the church, and by 2007 more claims against his father had emerged.
Frank Houston died in 2004. In 2014, Brian Houston admitted to a Sydney hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that his father was guilty of other cases of sexual abuse against children.
Reliving the day he found out the awful truth, Brian Houston says his heart shattered.
“I was meeting with one of my colleagues and he told me someone had rung into the Church office and made a complaint that, 30 years before, my father had abused a boy,” he says.
“At first I thought, ‘That’s immoral.’ Within a split second I thought, ‘That’s criminal.’ And I was just stunned, shattered.”
Brian Houston’s wife, Bobbie, tells of Brian taking her to lunch in Sydney, saying he had “something terrible” to tell her.
“My heart sunk — I thought he was going to tell me he had an affair — which now is almost laughable — but he told me. I don’t remember his words. I just know I was stunned. I was stunned,” she says.
Recounting his struggle to deal with the truth about his father, Brian Houston says “the dad that I knew, right up to really his dying day, was a totally different person than what now the world knows was an evil side of him”.
“I was never at any time in any way exposed to that, so it’s still hard to reconcile.
“At first I felt very sad and very disappointed, and obviously I felt terribly sad for the victim, because there’s no doubt about it, my father’s violated him and done irreparable damage to his life.
“I felt it was my moral duty to face up to it with my own father. Hopefully anyone who is slightly human can think about that.”
In 2015 the Royal Commission found Brian Houston had failed to alert the police about allegations his father had sexually assaulted children, and had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for dealing with the accusations.
Brian Houston had previously told the Commission he did not go to police because “rightly or wrongly I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were to just call the police at that point”.
“I had to confront my own father — my hero — we didn’t cover it up.
“We did tell people straight away. We did take his credentials away. He never did preach again and we did oversee and ensure that he was never put in a position to be close to kids to be able to do that again.
“What we didn’t do is report it to the police.
“When he (the victim) came forward he was 36 or 37 years old. And he was very adamant he didn’t want to involve the police. He didn’t want the church authorities involved, or the police authorities involved.
“And so he was brittle and I think because of that I didn’t see the police as an option.”
Brian Houston concedes the true extent of this father’s crimes may have gone with Frank Houston to his grave.
“Of course it’s come out since then (the initial complaint) that there were others as well.
“And I don’t think we know to this day the full extent of it — I don’t know the full extent of it — I think I would be aware of about six, but listen, I have no idea — it could be much bigger than that, I just don’t know.”
Inside Story host Leila McKinnon says the comments are part of a wide-ranging interview in which “nothing was off limits” with Brian Houston’s and his wife.
It encompasses the rise of Hillsong — a phenomenon that began in Sydney’s Hills district and, more than 30 years on, has a presence in 15 countries, and asks questions about its finances, its converts, its success and its beliefs — including claims it’s a cult (to which Houston responds: “Cults hold people against their will, hold their minds, try to divide families those sorts of things … at Hillsong. People come, people go — no one has to do anything.”)
McKinnon says: “All the questions and scandals were addressed, and I think he (Houston) has answered in an upfront way, and from here we have left it for people to make up their own minds.”
“The fact is they (the Houstons) haven’t done a lot of media — they largely speak to their own congregations — which means this may be a side to them we haven’t seen before,” she said.”
“….In the 7:30pm slot, Inside Story’s piece on Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston drew 499,000 followed by RTA on 517,000 viewers but was beaten by I’m A Celebrity and also Seven’s Home and Away which had 753,000 viewers….”