Pastor Brian Houston. Sheltered his pedophile father from the NSW Police after his father confessed to a lifetime of secret sexual abuse of little boys.

Pastor Brian Houston. Sheltered his pedophile father Rev Frank Houston from the NSW Police after his father confessed to a lifetime of secret sexual abuse of little boys.

 

“In 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police.”

Royal Commission Report below

Pastor Brian Houston was recommended by the Royal Commission for prosecution for pedophile protection crimes. The matter is now with the NSW Police and at an advanced stage of proceedings.

 

PUBLISHED EXTRACTS FROM THE FINDINGS OT THE ROYAL COMMISSION ABOUT PASTOR BRIAN HOUSTON, HILLSONG AND THE AUSTRALIAN ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, NOW CALLED THE AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIAN CHURCHES

 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

royal commission child abuse 4

 

Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

REPORT OF CASE STUDY NO. 18

The response of the Australian Christian Churches and affiliated Pentecostal churches to allegations of child sexual abuse

October 2015

COMMISSIONERS

Justice Jennifer Coate Mr Bob Atkinson AO APM

Report of Case Study No. 18

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Table of contents

Preface 1

This case study 4

Executive summary 5

  1. 1  The Australian Christian Churches and the Pentecostal movement 13
    1. 1.1  Pentecostalism 13
    2. 1.2  Structure of the Australian Christian Churches 13
    3. 1.3  Principle of autonomy 14
    4. 1.4  Ministers’ credentials 14
    5. 1.5  Policies and training 16
    6. 1.6  The Administration Manual and the requirement to put complaints in writing 19
  2. 2  Hillsong Church (New South Wales), the Assemblies of God in Australia and
    Mr Frank Houston 23

    1. 2.1  Background 23
    2. 2.2  Sexual abuse of AHA 24
    3. 2.3  Response of the Assemblies of God in Australia 26
    4. 2.4  Pastor Brian Houston’s role 32

Report of Case Study No. 18

  1. 4.6  Child protection policies 74
  2. 4.7  The Australian Christian Churches response 78
  3. 4.8  Use of the title ‘pastor’

 

This case study

During the public hearing of Case Study 18, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse examined the responses of the Australian Christian Churches (a Pentecostal movement in Australia) and two affiliated churches to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The public hearing was held from 7 October 2014 to 17 October 2014 in Sydney. The scope and purpose of the hearing was:

  1. The response of the Sydney Christian Life Centre and Hills Christian Life Centre (now Hillsong Church), and Assemblies of God in Australia (now Australian Christian Churches), to allegations of child sexual abuse made against William Francis ‘Frank’ Houston.
  2. The response of the Northside Christian College and the Northside Christian Centre (now Encompass Church) in Bundoora, Victoria and Assemblies of God in Australia (now Australian Christian Churches) to allegations of child sexual abuse made against former teacher Kenneth Sandilands.
  3. The response of Australian Christian Churches to allegations of child sexual abuse made against Jonathan Baldwin.
  4. The systems, policies, practices and procedures for the reporting of, and responding to, allegations of child sexual abuse of:
    1. Australian Christian Churches
    2. Hillsong Church
    3. Northside Christian College and Encompass Church.
  5. Any other related matters.

Along with the findings and recommendations in this report, we have identified some issues of general significance (see section 5, ‘Systemic issues’).

We will consider these further in other public hearings and roundtables.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Executive summary

The Australian Christian Churches and the Pentecostal movement

According to its followers, Pentecostalism is a denomination of Christianity that groups different Christian churches based on their common belief in the direct personal experience of the Holy Spirit. This is signified by ‘speaking in tongues’, prophecy and healing. A grouping of Pentecostal churches is called a ‘movement’.

Pentecostal churches voluntarily choose to affiliate and cooperate as a movement. The Australian Christian Churches is the largest Pentecostal movement in Australia. Each of the churches and related institutions in this case study are affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches, which was known before 2007 as the Assemblies of God in Australia.

A National Executive oversees the Australian Christian Churches at a national level, and each state has its own State Executive. The National and State executives are responsible primarily for issuing ‘credentials’ to ministers (also referred to as pastors) and churches. The National and State executives also provide policies for affiliated churches to adopt, including policies in respect of child protection. However, the Australian Christian Churches has limited oversight of its affiliated churches, which are considered ‘autonomous’.

The Australian Christian Churches recommends, but does not require:

  • its affiliated churches to adopt and adhere to child protection policies
  • its pastors to adhere to child protection policies
  • its pastors to attend training programs it offers on child protection policies.The Australian Christian Churches’ current Grievance Procedure for handling complaints against pastors for sexual misconduct gives priority to the protection of pastors over the safety of children.Hillsong Church (New South Wales), Assemblies of God in Australia and Mr Frank HoustonMr Frank Houston was the leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s. He came to Australia from New Zealand to preach in 1969 and 1970. On these two occasions, Mr Frank Houston stayed with AHA and his family. During these stays he sexually abused AHA, who was seven years old at the time.In 1977, Mr Frank Houston founded the Sydney Christian Life Centre. His son, Pastor Brian Houston, founded the Hills Christian Life Centre in 1983. Both churches were affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Australia and merged in 2000.

 

Report of Case Study No. 18

In 2001, the two churches were renamed Hillsong Church. Hillsong Church remains affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches to the present day.

When allegations about Mr Frank Houston’s abuse of AHA emerged in 1999, Pastor Brian Houston was the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia. He confronted his father, who confessed to the abuse. Pastor Brian Houston then called a Special Executive Meeting of the National Executive, which Pastor Brian Houston attended. Although Pastor Brian Houston relinquished the position of Chair at the meeting, he remained present while the National Executive discussed the allegations and decided on disciplinary action for Mr Frank Houston.

In handling AHA’s allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston and Mr Frank Houston’s admission, the New South Wales State Executive (and, separately, the National Executive) did not follow its Complaints Procedure set out in the Administration Manual. The New South Wales Executive failed to:

  • appoint a contact person for the complainant
  • interview the complainant to determine the precise nature of the allegations
  • have the State Executive or National Executive interview the alleged perpetrator
  • record any of the steps it took.In 2000, neither Hillsong Church nor its predecessors, Sydney Christian Life Centre and Hills Christian Life Centre, reported the suspension and subsequent withdrawal of Mr Frank Houston’s credential as a minister to the New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People, as required by section 39(1) of the Commission for Children and Young People Act 1998 (NSW).In 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police.In 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility for dealing with AHA’s allegations because he was both the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of Mr Frank Houston, the alleged perpetrator.In 1999, members of the National Executive who attended the Special Executive Meeting of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not follow the National Executive’s policy for handling allegations of child sexual abuse against pastors and failed to recognise and respond to Pastor Brian Houston’s conflict of interest.

 

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

1 The Australian Christian Churches and the Pentecostal movement

1.1 Pentecostalism

According to its followers, Pentecostalism is a branch of Christianity, whose beliefs can include direct personal experience of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing.1

The grouping of Pentecostal churches is called a ‘movement’. Pentecostal churches voluntarily choose to affiliate and cooperate as a movement.2

The Australian Christian Churches is one such Pentecostal movement, to which all of the churches in this case study are affiliated.

There are other movements of Pentecostal churches in Australia, but the Australian Christian Churches is the largest.3

1.2 Structure of the Australian Christian Churches

The Australian Christian Churches commenced in Australia in 1937 under the name ‘Assemblies of God in Australia’. In 2007, it changed its name to the Australian Christian Churches. It currently has over 1,070 affiliated churches and over 272,000 constituents.4

The rules and structure of the Australian Christian Churches are set out in its central document the United Constitution, dated April 2013.

According to the United Constitution, the movement is led by a National President at the head of a National Executive, both elected every two years by the National Conference.5 The National Conference is the governing body of the movement.6

Below the national level, each state and territory is governed by a state president with a State Executive.7 The State Executives are ultimately responsible to the National Executive.8 The National Conference delegates to the State Executives matters such as managing ordination applications and investigating complaints against credentialed ministers but can intervene at any time.9

State Executives are divided into District Branches headed by district superintendents.10 The District Branch receives applications for ministerial credentials, as well as complaints, which are then communicated to the relevant State Executive.11

To qualify for affiliation with the Australian Christian Churches, local churches must meet certain requirements set out in the United Constitution.12 If these requirements are met, the National Executive issues the local church with a Certificate of Fellowship. The certificate can, however, be withdrawn at any time at the discretion of the National Executive.13

 An affiliated church (referred to in the United Constitution as a ‘registered church’) ‘must appoint, as its senior pastor, a person holding a current Ministry credential/certificate of the Movement’.

If a church wishes to appoint a person not holding a credential, it can only do so with the express permission of the State Executive ‘on condition that the person immediately begins the process of applying for an appropriate credential/certificate’.14

Each affiliated church can be incorporated or unincorporated.15

1.3 Principle of autonomy

Article 2.2.2 of the United Constitution states:

The Movement recognises the autonomy of a local church within the movement, but cooperative fellowship places a responsibility on a local church to function consistently with the United Constitution, the State By-Laws and all policies approved by the National Conference of the movement.16

National President of the Australian Christian Churches, Pastor Wayne Alcorn, explained the relationship between the Australian Christian Churches and its affiliates as follows:

The National Fellowship has a limited oversight of the affiliated churches. Its oversight primarily relates to the registration of affiliated churches and accreditation of pastors … An affiliated church retains complete responsibility for local governance and the ACC has no authority to direct individual churches or their board of directors/elders regarding this local governance other than through moral persuasion and [the] provision of policy guidance.17

The principle of autonomy was raised throughout the case study as an important boundary in the relationship between the Australian Christian Churches and its affiliated churches.

The principle of autonomy also has consequences for how the Australian Christian Churches disciplines its ministers, discussed in the section below.

1.4 Ministers’ credentials

A primary purpose of the Australian Christian Churches is to provide ministers in its affiliated churches with credentials.18 Credentials are set out in Article 11 of the United Constitution.

The Movement recognises four certificates with respect to ministry:

  • Ordained Minister’s Credential
  • Provisional Minister’s Credential
    Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
  • Specialised Ministry Certificate
  • Overseas Associate Minister’s Certificate.19The qualifications and requirements of all credential and certificate holders include, among other things:11.2.1 To be a person of God in good standing with those within the church and of good report by those outside the church …11.2.3 To have undertaken a recognised Bible study course and/or given evidence to the interviewing committee that he/she is equipped by private reading and study to fulfill the relevant ministry.11.2.4 To be acquainted with, accept and adopt the United Constitution, structure, policies and administration of the Movement.11.2.5 To be living consistent with the Code of Conduct and other policies of the Movement …11.2.7 To complete professional development as required by the National and State Executive.11.2.8 To be prepared to sign, as required, a declaration in relation to moral standing, compliance with legal requirements and doctrinal consistency with the Movement.20

    An Ordained Minister is a ‘proven minister as described in Ephesians 4:10–12’21 and this credential can only be obtained after the applicant minister has held a Provisional Minister’s Credential for two years.22

    A Provisional Minister is ‘one showing clear signs of a divine call and God-given ability, and an evident purpose to devote his/her life to the preaching of the Gospel’.23

    A Specialised Minister is ‘authorised to engage in various types of ministries on a specified basis, in a specific location or field of activity’.24

    An Overseas Associate Minister is:

    one who is living and ministering outside of Australia, holds a credential with an accrediting body within their nation of residence but has, in the opinion of the National Executive,
    a significant ministry and clear connectedness with the Movement that makes the maintenance of the relationship advantageous.25

    According to the United Constitution, all credentials and certificates are issued by the National Executive. The National Executive also has powers to suspend and withdraw ministerial credential and certificates. The National Executive may, on its own motion, suspend and withdraw ministerial credentials on the grounds of improper conduct or false teaching, or rely upon the recommendation of the State Executive.26

In extreme or emergency cases, the State or National President can suspend a ministerial credential for 30 days pending investigation and recommendation by the State Executive.27 The United Constitution states:

The National President should be immediately informed of a formal complaint against a credentialed minister that may in the opinion of the State President lead to the suspension of the minister’s credential or ministry certificate.28

1.5 Policies and training Development and adoption of policies

Another purpose of the Australian Christian Churches is to ‘establish a code of conduct, policies and standards of behaviour, endorsed by the National Conference that will be required standards for credential holders and churches’.29 This includes policies in respect of child protection.

The United Constitution states that:

Certificates of Fellowship shall be issued and may be withdrawn at any time at the discretion of the National Executive. Certificates will only be issued and retained by churches that meet the following requirements:

12.1.2.5 Acceptance of the United Constitution, State By-Laws, Code of Conduct and Policies of the Movement and Agreement to function according to them must be included in the church constitution … 30

At the national level, Pastor Alcorn stated that the National Executive provides policy guidance to its affiliated churches.31

At the state level, Pastor John McMartin, Australian Christian Churches State President for New South Wales, said:

[The State Executive] adopt a policy and ratify the policy. Then it is sent out to all the individual churches who are to ratify that at a board level and make it part of their culture and practice.32

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

In addition, Pastor Alcorn gave evidence that the various State Executives develop policies that are distributed to local affiliated churches for consideration and implementation. He stated that the National Executive ‘strongly recommends that the relevant State Policy is implemented as
a minimum’.33

A number of policies introduced by the (then) Assemblies of God in Australia are available for affiliated churches to adopt and implement. For example:

  • In 1994, the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia introduced a 15-point ‘Statement on the Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse’.34
  • In 2005, the National Executive noted that all State Presidents had implemented a child protection policy for their state.35However, the structure of the Australian Christian Churches and the principle of autonomy means that different policies may be adopted by the national, state and local levels of the movement. Both pastors Alcorn and McMartin stated that, due to the autonomous nature of affiliated churches, it is up to the affiliated church to determine whether it adopts a particular policy. Pastor Alcornstated that:The Australian Christian Churches produces documents that can be used as generic templates for its state branches … The state branches adopt, adapt, advance and incorporate these policies.36However, Pastor Alcorn stated that the Australian Christian Churches ‘has no authority to direct individual churches … regarding local governance’.37Pastor McMartin gave evidence that, while the State Executive cannot require an affiliated church to adopt a specific policy:[The State Executive can] recommend best practice and we strongly encourage them [affiliated churches] to adopt our policies and operate their churches in a safe way that creates a best practice for the people in their congregations.38Pastor John Hunt, Australian Christian Churches State President for Queensland and the Northern Territory, gave evidence that:

    There would be nothing in our documentation that would demand a church adhere to the policies that we have recommended or else face dissociation.39

    Pastor Hunt called this an ‘ambiguity’ of the movement’s structure.40 He gave evidence that the Australian Christian Churches has no audit process for local churches to confirm that they are implementing adequate child protection policies and that affiliated churches face no sanctions if they fail to adopt policies.41

 Pastor Hunt stated that requiring affiliated churches to enforce child protection policies would ‘require a fundamental change to who we are in terms of our structure’ but ‘we have discussed it and we have thought … that this indeed does need to be examined and pursued’.42

Pastor Alcorn further explained that some of the changes proposed involved linking the registration of the affiliated church to whether or not the senior pastor, or the affiliated church itself, is prepared to adopt the required child abuse policies. However, he said that such change would ‘challenge the very fabric of who we are’.43

Pastor Alcorn said that a recommendation that the Ministerial Code of Conduct be amended to include a requirement to adopt child protection policies of the standard recommended at state level would be put forward at the April 2015 National Conference.44

It is clear that the Australian Christian Churches:

  • recommends, but does not require that its affiliated churches adopt and adhere to child protection policies
  • does not require its pastors to adhere to child protection policies. Development and adoption of training programsIn addition to the development of policies, it is also an objective of the Australian Christian Churches to ‘train … and send out ministers … for the work of God in Australia and overseas’.45Pastor Alcorn told the Royal Commission that:we offer training and it’s comprehensive at many levels, including governance, workplace health and safety, and in this area of child protection, and there is a culture of cooperation.46Pastor Shane Baxter, Australian Christian Churches State President of Victoria, said that the State Executive offers a number of training days throughout the year and that they train the boards of affiliated churches:One of the areas that we train boards in is areas of risk, and so we particularly look at areas of risk to church. This is a huge area of risk obviously to children but from a board point of view it’s obviously then an area of risk to the church.47Pastor Baxter also said that the training offered by the State Executive includes assistance with implementation of policies.48 For example, in 2005, the Queensland State Executive commenced providing voluntary one-day seminars to inform local churches about current legislation and how to implement adequate child protection policies and procedures.49

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Pastor Alcorn said that, while there are opportunities available for an affiliated church to participate in training programs, it is up to the affiliated church to take the opportunities offered.50 He accepted that merely providing these training opportunities has been insufficient to ensure that affiliated churches adopt policies of a standard recommended by the State Executive.51

It is also clear that the Australian Christian Churches recommends, but does not require that its pastors attend training programs offered on child protection policies.

1.6 The Administration Manual and the requirement to put complaints in writing

The detailed document entitled ‘A Program for the Restoration and Reinstatement of Disciplined Ministers Administration Manual’ (the Administration Manual) is an example of a policy endorsed by the National Conference of the (then) Assemblies of God in Australia. It was endorsed in May 199952 and revised in April 201053 to comply with the 2009 revised version of the United Constitution.54

The Administration Manual sets out policies and procedures for disciplining ministers and pastors who have committed ‘any moral failure involving sexual misconduct’.55 It is recommended for adoption by its affiliated churches.

Section One of the Administration Manual states that ‘this policy document can be used as a guide for all cases of the discipline of ministers but it is mandatory for those cases relating to serious sexual misconduct’.56

The Administration Manual defines paedophilia as serious sexual misconduct.57

According to the Administration Manual, ‘ministers of the gospel’ are required to display a ‘very high standard of behaviour’:58

[When a] minister violates scriptural principles in his/her behaviour, it is the responsibility of the Australian Christian Churches Movement to take appropriate disciplinary action and to attempt to bring about restoration in the minister’s life.59

The Administration Manual states:

1. EXCLUSION FROM MEMBERSHIP

In the case of prolonged or perverse sexual misconduct which has been brought to light and which appears to be clear from the evidence available, and in the event of no acknowledgment of guilt, a person may be excluded from membership in an Australian Christian Churches church.

 2. DISMISSAL FROM THE MINISTRY

In cases where sexual misconduct has been admitted or appears highly likely from the evidence available and the complaints procedure described in Article 11.7 of the United Constitution has been undertaken, a minister may be dismissed from ministry. All effort should be made to restore such persons in their relationship with God, their church, their spouse and their family but restoration to ministry may not be possible due to the extent or perversity of the sexual misconduct …

3. ADMISSION TO A PROGRAM OF REHABILITATION

In some cases (following the procedure as set out in Articles 11.7 and 11.8 of the United Constitution) the State Executive may recommend that a minister apply for admission to a program of rehabilitation to ministry … 60

Section 2 of the Administration Manual states that:

the National Conference has determined that no rehabilitation should be considered in the case of a minister who offends in the area of … (2) paedophilia.61

Complaints Procedure (May 1999 – March 2010)

The Administration Manual set out the following procedures for the handling of complaints against a minister (Complaints Procedure):

  1. Any complaint against a member of the ministry must be submitted in writing to the appropriate State Officer and be signed by the complainant or their representative. Each state should provide a telephone number and name of an independent person (preferably female) who can be the first contact for a complainant. This contact should then arrange for the complaint to be taken to the appropriate State Officer. The name and number should be made available to all churches and pastors.
  2. If a report of complaint is received, then the following should take place:
    1. A full interview with the complainant whereby the allegations of the complaint are completely documented.
    2. The accused minister is interviewed by the State Executive or at least two delegated individuals from the State and/or District Executives. At this meeting, the complaints are placed before the minister.
  3. If the minister then denies the allegations, the following should take place:

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

  1. If there is more than one complainant the minister’s credential may be suspended for a period of thirty days … pending that investigation.
  2. If there is only one complainant the State Executive may strongly recommend that the minister take a period of paid leave pending the investigation.
  3. Regardless of the number of complainants, the minister must not make any contact with the complainant(s).
  4. An investigating committee should be established with strict terms of reference and that committee should interview the complainant and the minister involved in the alleged conduct.
  5. The investigating committee will then prepare a full report, with recommendations, for the appropriate State Executive.The State Executive will then make a recommendation to the National Executive for determination.
  6. If a complaint is found to be false and malicious, disciplinary action may be taken against the complainant. This may be by the State Executive if the complainant holds a credential or by a local church if this is appropriate.

Grievance Procedure (April 2010 to present)

The Complaints Procedure in the Administration Manual was updated in April 2010 and retitled as the ‘Grievance Procedure’.63 The Grievance Procedure is also replicated in a separate document titled ‘Grievance Procedure for Certificate Holders’.64

The Grievance Procedure sets out 10 steps that could be applied by the State or National Executive to a person issued with a credential and alleged to have engaged in improper conduct.65 The 10 steps are:

  • Step One: Receipt of Complaint
  • Step Two: Mandatory Reporting
  • Step Three: Suspension
  • Step Four: Consider whether a full investigation should be delayed pendingcriminal proceedings
  • Step Five: Investigation by the State Executive
  • Step Six: Consideration of the Investigator’s Report by the State Executive
  • Step Seven: The Committee’s Final Decision
  • Step Eight: Determination regarding appropriate disciplinary action
  • Step Nine: Recommendation through the State Executive to the National Officers
  • Step Ten: Right of Appeal.66
 The Grievance Procedure still requires, as a first step, that the complaint be put in writing.67 However, it is noted in the Administration Manual and the Grievance Procedure for Certificate Holders that:

This procedure is for guidance only. The State or National Executive may decide not to follow the Procedure, or apply a truncated version of the procedure, where they consider necessary.

Pastor McMartin said that today ‘there may be other ways’ of initiating a complaint; for example, by transcribing a ‘conversation with the victim’.69 He accepted that there is a benefit in changing the Grievance Procedure to allow for verbal complaints and to initiate an investigation that does not require the consent of the victim.70

Pastors McMartin and Alcorn both stated that they were concerned that false accusations could be made against ministers. They expressed the view that complaints should be written, with the name of the accused put in writing. Pastor McMartin said:

The only problem I have is anyone could accuse any minister of anything and that process begins. If there is a written document, it states to me that they are serious about pursuing this.

Pastor Alcorn said:

Our pastors live a very public life and people can make all sorts of accusations, sometimes malicious, sometimes with all sorts of agendas, and so there does need to be some protection whereby eventually somebody’s prepared to make a complaint in writing …

The evidence provided by pastors McMartin and Alcorn demonstrates that the current Grievance Procedure places an emphasis on protecting ministers and pastors from false accusations. It requires complaints to be in writing to indicate the seriousness of the accusation. It does not focus on prioritising the safety of children.

We conclude that the Australian Christian Churches’ current Grievance Procedure for handling complaints against ministers and pastors for sexual misconduct gives priority to the protection of pastors over the safety of children.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

2 Hillsong Church (New South Wales), the Assemblies of God in Australia and Mr Frank Houston

2.1 Background

Hillsong Church is an affiliate of the Australian Christian Churches73 and was established in 2001 following the merger of two local affiliated churches, Sydney Christian Life Centre and Hills Christian Life Centre.74

This case study examined the response of the Assemblies of God in Australia to allegations of child sexual abuse made against Mr Frank Houston during his two visits to Australia in 1969 and 1970. The case study also examined the response of Pastor Brian Houston (Mr Frank Houston’s son) who, at the time, was the Senior Pastor at Hills Christian Life Centre and the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia.

Mr Frank Houston was ordained as a New Zealand Salvation Army officer in the 1940s. He left the Salvation Army after about 12 years to establish an Assemblies of God in Australia church in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, in 1959.

Mr Frank Houston later became the leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand.76 During this time, Mr Frank Houston occasionally came to Australia to preach.

In 1977, Mr Frank Houston moved to Australia and established the Sydney Christian Life Centre. He was the Senior Pastor, and the church was affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Australia from about 1978 or 1979.

In 1978, Mr Frank Houston’s son and daughter-in-law, pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston, moved to Australia on a one-year working visa. Initially, they attended the Sydney Christian Life Centre, with Pastor Brian Houston eventually becoming an Assistant Pastor.

In 1983, pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston founded the Hills Christian Life Centre,80 which was also affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Australia. Pastor Brian Houston’s popularity as the Church’s Senior Pastor grew dramatically, and Hills Christian Life Centre enjoyed success because of its ability to draw large numbers of congregants.

In 1997, Pastor Brian Houston became the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia. He held that position until 2009.

Pastor Brian Houston said that, over a number of years, his father spoke to him about taking over as Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre. In May 1999, Mr Frank Houston suddenly retired from the position of Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre and asked Pastor Brian Houston to take over his position.83 Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that he and his father would meet weekly for lunch. On those occasions: we’d had conversations about whenever Frank, you know, was no longer Pastor, that he would like to see me take on that role. He also, I think, had passed that on to the board of Sydney Christian Life Centre, so the board had adopted that, that should anything ever happen to Frank, I would assume that role.

From May 1999, for a period of 18 months, Pastor Brian Houston was the Senior Pastor of both churches.85 In 2001, the two churches were renamed Hillsong Church.

2.2 Sexual abuse of AHA

AHA was seven years old in 1969 and, at that time, his family was heavily involved in the Assemblies of God in Australia movement in Sydney. AHA stated that his family were good friends with Mr Frank Houston and that Mr Frank Houston often visited Australia from New Zealand to preach.

In 1969 and 1970 Mr Frank Houston visited Sydney, sometimes accompanied by his family, and stayed in AHA’s home.

In January 1970, Mr Frank Houston stayed with AHA and his family for almost a week. AHA told the Royal Commission that during this stay Mr Frank Houston came into his room ‘nearly every night of the week’ while he was sleeping and touched him inappropriately.90 AHA said that the touching involved Mr Frank Houston lying on top of him, placing his hands on his genitals, masturbating him and inserting a finger into his anus.

AHA recalled that the abuse also occurred when he and his family went to different churches and places with Mr Frank Houston. AHA said that he sometimes went into an office alone with Mr Frank Houston, who felt between AHA’s legs. This inappropriate touching also occurred at an evangelical camp in Windsor, New South Wales.

AHA said that:

The abuse in my home and at the different church meetings continued over a period of years until I reached puberty. Pastor Frank wanted nothing to do with me after I reached puberty.

Effect on AHA

AHA said that the abuse inflicted on him by Mr Frank Houston destroyed his childhood.94 For years, he was ‘full of shame, fear and embarrassment’.95 AHA told the Royal Commission that he dropped out of school in year 10,96 has not had a good work history97 and is currently on a disability pension at the age of 52.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

AHA has anger issues99 and suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.100 He also continues to have flashbacks of Mr Frank Houston in his bedroom and has difficulty in his physical and emotional relationships with his wife and children. AHA said his doctor has attributed his depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to the abuse he suffered as a child.

AHA said he felt very isolated when the abuse came to light and that the church community made him feel like he was the problem.103 He stated that he feels he has ‘received absolutely no support, counselling, apology or acknowledgement of the abuse’ from the church and ‘that the church’s response was completely inadequate’.

Disclosure of sexual abuse of AHA

In 1978, when AHA was 16, he told his mother that Mr Frank Houston had sexually abused him.105 Her response was that, if AHA revealed the abuse to others, he might turn them against the church and send them to hell. AHA ‘did not want to cause any trouble’, so he kept the abuse to himself and did not take it any further.

In mid-1998, some 20 years after the initial disclosure, AHA’s mother disclosed the abuse to Pastor Barbara Taylor. Pastor Taylor was the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Christian Family Church – a local church in Plumpton, New South Wales, also affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Australia.107

AHA’s mother also separately disclosed the abuse to Mr Kevin Mudford, an evangelist, in a meeting held at Emmanuel Christian Family Church on 3 November 1998.108

Pastor Taylor attempted several times over the next year to arrange a meeting between Mr Frank Houston and AHA, with the intention that Mr Frank Houston would apologise, but the meeting never happened.109

Mr Frank Houston did call AHA several times in 1999 and made apologies to AHA.110 However, Pastor Taylor said that AHA did not consider the apologies to be genuine.111 Rather, AHA told Pastor Taylor that he thought Mr Frank Houston wanted to smooth the matter over by paying AHA compensation because:

[He] was very frightened with what he’d been doing to myself and to other children, and he didn’t want to die and go with this in front of God to answer for it. He was very fearful.112

During this time, Mr Frank Houston arranged a payment of $2,000 for AHA.113

AHA told the Royal Commission that, at the time, he felt his history of abuse ‘was a hideous secret and I just didn’t want to have it exposed’.114

In 2000, AHA agreed to meet Mr Frank Houston at a McDonald’s restaurant in Thornleigh, Sydney. Mr Nabi Saleh, a friend of Mr Frank Houston and an elder of Hillsong Church, was also present at this meeting.115 AHA stated that he was offered a dirty napkin to sign in exchange for $10,000. AHA said that he signed the dirty napkin and was told by Mr Frank Houston that a cheque would be sent to him. He also said that Mr Frank Houston told him to contact Pastor Brian Houston if there was any problem.116

AHA said that he later contacted Pastor Brian Houston, as ‘I had not yet received any money from Pastor Frank’.117 Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that he ‘spoke to my family’ to ensure that the money would be transferred to AHA.118

AHA told the Royal Commission that he received a cheque in the post for $10,000 after speaking with Pastor Brian Houston. There was no correspondence with the cheque.119

2.3 Response of the Assemblies of God in Australia New South Wales State Executive member learns of the sexual abuse

On 4 November 1998, Pastor Taylor met with Mr Mudford and Pastor McMartin, who was at that time a member of the New South Wales State Executive, to discuss the allegations raised by AHA’s mother against Mr Frank Houston. Pastor Taylor said that at this meeting Pastor McMartin was told that there were allegations of child sexual abuse against a senior pastor. However, he was not told that AHA was the victim or that Mr Frank Houston was the perpetrator.120

Pastor Taylor said that Pastor McMartin suggested taking the allegations to Pastor Brian Houston, who was the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia at the time.121 However, Pastor Taylor did not take the allegations to Pastor Brian Houston because ‘it was his father, he was loved by everybody and I only had one case I knew about to go on’.122

On 19 May 1999, Pastor Taylor wrote to Pastor McMartin stating that AHA and Mr Frank Houston had been in contact, but that AHA put the matter on hold, as he was too upset. The letter did not name AHA or Mr Frank Houston. The letter went on to state that:

I wanted you to know that we didn’t just ‘sit’ on the matter but have tried unsuccessfully to bring this matter to some sort of conclusion … 123

No evidence was provided to the Royal Commission to show that Pastor McMartin replied to the letter. Pastor McMartin said he could not remember receiving the letter.124

Pastor Taylor gave evidence that she next spoke with Pastor McMartin on 16 September 1999.125 She wrote a letter to Pastor McMartin on the same day, stating that the incident occurred ‘30 years ago whilst Mr Frank Houston was sharing his bedroom whilst here in ministry from New Zealand’. The letter named AHA and Mr Frank Houston. The letter also stated:

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Thank you for making it clear to me that the Assemblies of God have a structure in place that can and will deal with such allegations. I will convey this to [AHA] and ask him if he wants to pursue the matter further for healing of both parties.126

Pastor Taylor told the Royal Commission that, at this stage, it was her understanding that the Assemblies of God in Australia would respond. She thought the response would include disciplinary action against Mr Frank Houston and counselling for AHA.127

Pastor McMartin said that he did not receive the letter but accepted that the meeting took place.128 However, he said only Mr Frank Houston’s name was provided.129

When Pastor McMartin learned that the perpetrator was Mr Frank Houston, he said that he told Pastor Taylor to tell the victim that the complaints process could not begin until a written complaint was made in accordance with the Administration Manual.130

Pastor McMartin also said that, as he had not received a written complaint, he did not attempt to continue the process under the Administration Manual even though he knew the allegations were of child sexual abuse – a criminal offence.131

When Pastor McMartin was told that the victim was AHA, he said that he contacted a member of the National Executive, Pastor Alcorn, for advice.132 Pastor McMartin believed this conversation occurred at the end of October 1999133 and said that Pastor Alcorn decided that the allegations would need to be raised with Pastor Brian Houston.134

Pastor McMartin said that he and Pastor Alcorn spoke to Pastor Brian Houston about the allegations about two weeks later and that Pastor Brian Houston appeared to be in shock.135

Pastor McMartin told the Royal Commission that, at this stage, it was his understanding that the National Executive would undertake its own investigations136 and that members of the New South Wales State Executive could not continue the process under the Administration Manual, as the complaint had not been put in writing.137

National Executive learns of the sexual abuse

Pastor Brian Houston stated that he first learned about the allegation against his father in late October 1999, when the Business Manager of Hills Christian Life Centre, Mr George Aghajanian, told him about it. Earlier that day, Mr Mudford had told Mr Aghajanian that there was an allegation of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston.138

Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that, at the time of being informed, he had no doubt that the allegation of child molestation against his father, if true, was criminal conduct.139

 Pastor Brian Houston decided to confront Mr Frank Houston, who was then overseas, when he returned.140 In the meantime, he said he spoke with AHA’s mother about the allegation, but not with AHA because he had been warned that AHA was in a ‘brittle condition’.141

In mid-November 1999, Pastor Brian Houston confronted his father. Pastor Brian Houston gave evidence that Mr Frank Houston confessed to him that he had fondled AHA’s genitals on one occasion and that he had been in contact with AHA and paid him a sum of money.142 Pastor Brian Houston said he may have taken notes at the time, but he could not locate these notes for the

On 28 November 1999, Pastor Brian Houston met with pastors Taylor and McMartin. Taylor’s notes of the meeting record that:

Frank Houston had confessed to a lesser incident than the truthful one but it was further than I had been able to get
Frank said it was a ‘one of’ [sic] incident (which I did not and do not believe)

Brian said he and his family were in shock and that his father would be stood down from preaching. They would do it wisely

I said that [AHA] should receive counselling organised and paid for by the AOG [Assemblies of God in Australia]

”I said there was a possibility that [AHA] would go to court. l had told [AHA] that I would not stand with him in court unless the Church refused to deal with the matter Brian said he had spoken to a barrister who had told him that if it goes to court his father would surely be incarcerated for the crime.

PastorHouston and preaching. He gave evidence that Mr Frank Houston was ‘stood down instantly’ and that Mr Frank Houston ‘never, ever preached again anywhere after I confronted him in my office in mid to late November 1999’.However, Pastor Taylor’s records show that Mr Frank Houston continued to preach in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory on 4 and 5 December 1999.

When questioned about whether there was a formal document that exists for the suspension of Mr Frank Houston’s credential, Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that it ‘possibly’ does not exist.148 He said that, in 1999, ‘there possibly [was] a requirement’ for the suspension to be formalised into a written notice, but, in respect of recording Mr Frank Houston’s suspension in a written notice, he said he ‘failed to do so’.

Pastor Brian Houston and the Australian Christian Churches provided no written evidence recording the suspension of Mr Frank Houston’s credential to the Royal Commission.

Pastor McMartin told the Royal Commission that when he suspends the credential of a pastor his process includes informing the pastor of the suspension and confirming this in an email. The email is the written document that is kept in the New South Wales State Executive’s files. He said that the New South Wales State Executive then investigates, and any suspension of credentials requires the permission of the National President.

Brian Houston stated that, by the time this meeting took place, he had suspended Mr Frank Houston.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

No other evidence was provided by the Australian Christian Churches to the Royal Commission as to the process for suspending the credentials of pastors or ministers within the movement.

Meeting of the National Executive

On 22 December 1999, Pastor Brian Houston called for a Special Executive Meeting of the Assemblies of God in Australia.151 National Vice-President Pastor John Lewis, Pastor Alcorn and six others attended the meeting, including Pastor Keith Ainge, National Secretary of the Assemblies of God in Australia at the time, who took the minutes.152

Pastor Brian Houston opened the meeting as Chair and announced that the meeting was called to consider child sexual abuse allegations against his father.153 He told the executive members that his father had confessed to a single act of child sexual abuse 30 years ago154 and that the now adult victim did not want to make a formal complaint.155 He did not name AHA at this meeting.156

Pastor Brian Houston gave evidence that it was suggested at the meeting that he step down as Chair because of his personal relationship with Mr Frank Houston and because of his emotional state.157 However, he remained in the room throughout the meeting. Pastor Ainge gave evidence that:

Brian Houston chaired the meeting as he normally would, but immediately mentioned that this was in relation to his father and it was inappropriate for him to be the chair, and he asked John Lewis to take the chair, which he did immediately.159

The minutes of the meeting record the decisions of the National Executive that:

  • Mr Frank Houston’s credential be withdrawn ‘forthwith’
  • Mr Frank Houston would be placed under the supervision of the New South WalesSuperintendent, Mr Ian Woods
  • Mr Frank Houston would refrain from public ministry for 12 months and would not receivehis credential until the New South Wales Superintendent recommended restoration, whichcould occur only after two years
  • Pastor Brian Houston would convey these decisions to Mr Frank Houston
  • Pastor Brian Houston would meet with the complainant and explain the discipline andrestoration process, offer counselling, and tell the complainant that his identity had beenkept confidential
  • the Assemblies of God in Australia movement would not be notified of the disciplinaryaction, in line with the restoration policy [referred to as ‘Admission to a Program of Rehabilitation’ in the Administration Manual and discussed at chapter 1.6 of this report].160The minutes also record that Mr Frank Houston would be invited to enter the ‘Assemblies of God [in Australia] restoration program’.161

Pastor Ainge accepted that the invitation to enter program of rehabilitation was a breach of the Administration Manual.162

However, Pastor Ainge said that Mr Frank Houston would have to apply and be approved for the rehabilitation program. Although Mr Frank Houston never made an application, Pastor Ainge said that ‘approval would never have been granted’ because the Administration Manual prohibited the rehabilitation of paedophiles.163

The Complaints Procedure at the time required:

  • the National Executive to appoint an independent contact person to contact AHA
  • the State or National Executive members to interview AHA.
    It also required State or National Executive members be appointed to interview Mr Frank Houston.164Pastor Ainge accepted that none of those things were done.165 No evidence was presented to the Royal Commission that they were done subsequently.Mr Frank Houston gave up preaching altogether and retired in late 2000.166 At a Special Meeting of Elders of the Church held on 29 November 2000, Mr Frank Houston’s retirement was recorded in the minutes as a resignation.167 Pastor Brian Houston said his father was ‘asked to leave Hillsong Church, technically’.168The minutes of the Special Meeting of Elders record that Mr Frank Houston was also provided with a retirement package, which included financial support for him and his wife. It was also noted in the minutes that ‘a simple announcement concerning Frank’s retirement would be sufficient at this stage’ and that the announcement would be done while ‘[Frank and his wife Hazel] are on vacation in New Zealand during January’.169Despite having knowledge that Mr Frank Houston admitted to sexually abusing AHA, the National Executive allowed Mr Frank Houston to publicly resign, without damage to his reputation or the reputation of Hillsong Church.We conclude that, in handling AHA’s allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston, the New South Wales State Executive and, separately, the National Executive did not follow its Complaints Procedure as set out in its Administration Manual by failing to:
  • appoint a contact person for the complainant
  • interview the complainant to determine the precise nature of the allegations
  • have the State Executive or National Executive interview the alleged perpetrator
  • record any of the steps it took.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Reporting to the Commission for Children and Young People

During the period examined in this case study, the Commission for Children and Young People Act 1998 (NSW) dealt with employment screening for child-related employment, which was administered by the New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) and other agencies.

An ‘employer’ was defined in the Act as ‘any person who engages the person in employment … and includes a person who, in the course of a business, arranges for the placement of a person in employment with others’.170

Section 39 of the Act set out the duties of employers with respect to disciplinary proceedings. It imposed a duty on employers to notify the CCYP of the name and details of any employee against whom relevant disciplinary proceedings have been completed by the employer.

The Act defined ‘relevant disciplinary proceedings’ as:

disciplinary proceedings (in this State or elsewhere) against an employee by the employer or by a professional or other body that supervises the professional conduct of the employee, being completed proceedings involving

  1. child abuse, sexual misconduct by the employee, or
  2. acts of violence committed by the emplouee in the course of employment.171

On 7 August 2000, the CCYP sent a letter to the Business Manager at Hillsong City Church acknowledging Hillsong City Church’s registration for a Working with Children Check. The letter stated that ‘[I]t is important to remember that any completed relevant disciplinary proceedings must be reported to the [CCYP]’.172

The requirement applied to all disciplinary proceedings, including those completed in the five years before the commencement of the Act in 2000.

At the time the letter was sent, Pastor Brian Houston was the Senior Pastor of both Sydney Christian Life Centre and Hills Christian Life Centre. Although Mr Frank Houston had resigned from his role as Senior Pastor of Sydney Christian Life Centre, he was still employed by Sydney Christian Life Centre with ‘the idea that he was going to be an itinerant’.173

Counsel for Hillsong Church stated that neither Hillsong Church nor its predecessors (Sydney Christian Life Centre or Hills Christian Life Centre) reported any disciplinary proceedings against Mr Frank Houston to the CCYP. 174

In evidence given to the Royal Commission, Mr Aghajanian, the Business Manager of Hillsong Church, accepted that no report was made to the CCYP175 because:

the matter was overlooked due to a lack of understanding at the time in the context of complying with the comprehensive legislative child protection regime that came into force in and around the year 2000.176

2.4 Pastor Brian Houston’s role Pastor Brian Houston did not report to police

Despite Pastor Brian Houston’s evidence that he had no doubt that his father’s conduct was criminal, he made no attempt to report his father to the police at the time the confession was made to him.

Pastor Brian Houston said that, while he ‘knew, for the five years my father was still alive, there was every possibility that he would be charged’, he did not report his father to the police because AHA was 35 or 36 years of age.177

Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that, during a telephone conversation with AHA in the weeks immediately after he became aware of the abuse, AHA indicated that he did not want to go public about the abuse or approach the police.178

Evidence was also given to the Royal Commission that, at the Special Executive Meeting on 22 December 1999, there was discussion as to whether the National Executive was required to compulsorily report Mr Frank Houston’s conduct to the police.179

Pastor Ainge stated that the National Executive took legal advice about its obligations. He said that the advice was that the National Executive was not legally required to report the incident to the police, as the complainant was of age and did not want the matter reported.180

No evidence was provided by Pastor Brian Houston, or members of the National Executive who gave evidence to the Royal Commission, to demonstrate that the matter was ever brought to the attention of the police.

We are satisfied that, in 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police.

Conflict of interest

At the time that AHA’s allegations were raised, Pastor Brian Houston was the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Pastor Brian Houston was also the Senior Pastor of Sydney Christian Life Centre (a position previously held by Mr Frank Houston) and Senior Pastor of Hills Christian Life Centre.

Outside of his professional capacity, Pastor Brian Houston was also Mr Frank Houston’s son.

The evidence presented to the Royal Commission demonstrated that Pastor Brian Houston acted in all of these roles in responding to AHA’s allegations.

Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that, upon hearing the allegations against Mr Frank Houston, he was shocked because ‘Frank is my father’.181 Pastor Brian Houston was determined to confront his father. After hearing his father’s confession, he took steps to investigate the allegations on behalf of:

  • the Assemblies of God in Australia, to which he later presented confirmation of the confession
  • the Sydney Christian Life Centre.
    While acting in his capacity as Senior Pastor of the Sydney Christian Life Centre, Pastor BrianHouston later ended Mr Frank Houston’s preaching career.In conversations with Pastor Taylor, Pastor Brian Houston said that he was acting in his role as either the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia or as Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church.182Pastor Brian Houston described these conversations as having ‘nothing to do with being my father’s son’ and relating only to his ‘professional roles’. However, Pastor Brian Houston made no distinction about whether he was acting in his role as Senior Pastor or National President.When Pastor Brian Houston called AHA, he said he did so ‘as much because the abuse suffered by [AHA] was committed by my father as I did because I was President of the Australian Assemblies of God in Australia’.184Pastor Brian Houston spoke a number of times during the hearing about the emotional trauma his father’s offending caused him185 and his highly emotional state during that time.186 It was clear that he was personally affected by the events.Pastor Ainge told the Royal Commission that the allegations had come to Pastor Brian Houston in all three of his different capacities but ‘principally’ as National President.187Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that he did not think he had a conflict of interest because he never attempted to defend his father from the allegations188 and he acted swiftly to suspend his credential.189

We do not accept the views expressed by Pastor Brian Houston. There are two aspects to a conflict of interest – an actual conflict of interest and a potential or perceived conflict of interest.

An actual conflict of interest arises when a person’s private interests improperly influence the performance of that person’s professional duties and responsibilities. It is based on the actual things done.

A potential or perceived conflict of interest arises when a person’s private interests could be perceived as improperly influencing the performance of that person’s professional duties and responsibilities, regardless of whether or not that has occurred.

Pastor Brian Houston was Mr Frank Houston’s son. Regardless of whether Pastor Brian Houston’s actions were proper or appropriate, there always remained a public perception of a potential conflict of interest because of the personal relationship.

Pastor Brian Houston’s own evidence supports this finding. Pastor Brian Houston told the Royal Commission that, when another victim of Mr Frank Houston came forward, his brother, Mr Graeme Houston, handled the matter. It was not being handled by Pastor Brian Houston because of the ‘obvious conflict’ as Senior Pastor at Hillsong Church and because he was wearing ‘two hats’.190

We consider that a conflict of interest first arose when Pastor Brian Houston decided to respond to the allegations by confronting his father while simultaneously maintaining his roles as National President and Senior Pastor.

The conflict of interest became more apparent when Pastor Brian Houston called the Special Executive Meeting on 22 December 1999 in his capacity as National President. Pastor Brian Houston accepted that it was suggested he was to stand down as Chair of the meeting due to his conflict
in being Mr Frank Houston’s son.191 However, despite acknowledging the conflict, Pastor Brian Houston remained in the room throughout the meeting.192

At the meeting, the National Executive agreed that Pastor Brian Houston would communicate their decisions to Mr Frank Houston and to AHA. It is unclear in what capacity Pastor Brian Houston
was to undertake these tasks. This meant, however, that Pastor Brian Houston was the National Executive’s only line of communication to both the perpetrator and the victim.

The conflict of interest became even more apparent when Mr Frank Houston met with AHA at McDonalds and told AHA to contact Pastor Brian Houston if there were any problems. Pastor Brian Houston said that he facilitated the payment when later called by AHA. He said that he did not inform the Special Executive Meeting about the payment because:

the payment of money to [AHA] had nothing to do with the [N]ational [E]xecutive, because I was adamant that this was not about Hillsong; this was not about the Australian Assemblies of God in Australia. This payment was between Frank and [AHA].193

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

The By-Laws of the Assemblies of God in Australia require that the National Executive make decisions which ‘in its opinion, are necessary and beneficial to further the aims of the Assemblies of God in Australia’.194 The National President leads the National Executive and the National Conference, and is charged with ‘oversight of the work of the movement’.195

In acting as National President, Pastor Brian Houston undertook to act for and in the interests of the Assemblies of God in Australia. Pastor Brian Houston agreed with the proposition that, in this position, he was responsible ‘for protecting and ensuring the proper investigation and independent resolution of allegations of child sexual abuse’.196 The official duties of a person in such a position require that they do not place themselves in a situation where their duties may conflict with other interests in their personal or professional life.

The interests of the Assemblies of God in Australia include the implementation of the movement’s policies and procedures, and the proper disciplining of its ministers. Any strong personal relationship between a minister and an executive member in charge of their disciplinary process would have constituted a potential conflict of interest for that executive member.

The evidence given to the Royal Commission shows that the National Executive departed from the policies and procedures set out in the Administration Manual, which should have governed the discipline of Mr Frank Houston. The National Executive:

  • did not appoint an independent contact person to communicate the disciplinary process to AHA and Mr Frank Houston
  • did not conduct a full interview with AHA to fully record his allegations
  • allowed the interview with Mr Frank Houston to be conducted by Pastor Brian Houstonand not the New South Wales State Executive or at least two delegated individuals from the State and/or District Executives.The departure from the Administration Manual was accepted by pastors Ainge, McMartin and Brian Houston.197We are satisfied a conflict of interest existed because Pastor Brian Houston was both National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia and Mr Frank Houston’s son.Pastor Brian Houston gave evidence that his presence at the Special Executive Meeting was not intended to influence the National Executive to act contrary to the Administration Manual.198 Despite not intending to influence the decisions made at the Special Executive Meeting, there remained a perception of a potential conflict of interest because of Pastor Brian Houston’s personal relationship with Mr Frank Houston.

In addition, Pastor Ainge stated that the National Executive felt ‘pressure’ arising from ‘the fact that Frank Houston was a well-known, respected and appreciated member of the Assemblies of God in Australia’ and that he was a founding member of the Sydney Christian Life Centre, a very
popular church.199

Although the Australian Christian Churches has a current conflict of interest policy, Pastor Alcorn told the Royal Commission that the primary focus of the policy relates to purely financial matters. He said that, given it is common for family members to be involved in the senior ministry of the Church, the policy ‘should certainly be reviewed’ to address familial conflicts of interest.200 The same views were expressed to the Royal Commission by Mr Aghajanian.201

We conclude that in 1999 members of the National Executive who attended the Special Executive Meeting did not follow their own policy, the Administration Manual, for handling allegations against pastors and ministers, and failed to recognise and respond to Pastor Brian Houston’s conflict
of interest.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

3 Northside Christian College and Northside Christian Centre, now Encompass Church (Victoria), Assemblies of God in Australia and Mr Kenneth Sandilands

3.1 Background

Northside Christian College (the College) is a primary and secondary school located in Bundoora in the northern suburbs of Melbourne in Victoria. The College was founded in 1952 and established in 1979 as a ministry of Northside Christian Centre, now known as Encompass Church (the Church). The Church has been affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Australia since it opened and remains affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches to this day.203

This case study examined allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Kenneth Sandilands, a teacher at the College from 1983 to 1992, and the response of the College and the Church to those allegations during this nine-year period. The response of the Assemblies of God in Australia was also examined.

It is estimated that, during this nine-year period in which Mr Sandilands taught at the College, allegations were raised that he was involved in sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour towards 30 children. Multiple complaints were made throughout that time.204

From grade 1 in 1986 to grade 3 in 1988, Ms Emma Fretton was in Mr Sandilands’ class at the College. He sexually abused her during those years, and also in grades 4 and 5.205

Mr Sandilands was convicted in 2000 of 12 counts of indecent assault against eight students at the College: three counts of indecent assault against Ms Fretton and nine counts of indecent assault against seven other students at the College. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment, with
a non-parole period of 12 months.206

In 2014, Mr Sandilands was convicted of a further seven counts of indecent assault which occurred during his time as a teacher at St Paul’s Anglican Primary School in Frankston, Victoria during the period 1970 to 1974: six counts concerning a girl and one count of indecent assault against a boy. He was sentenced to 26 months imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 10 months.207

In 2000, civil proceedings were commenced against Mr Sandilands, the Church, Senior Pastor Denis Smith and another teacher at the College by Ms Fretton and five other former students.

3.2 Structure and organisation

The Church was incorporated in 1985 and the governance arrangements introduced at this time remained in place until 2002. The governance arrangements included a Church Board, which consisted of the senior pastor, associate pastors, assistant pastors and elders of the Church.208

The Church Board appointed the College Council, which consisted of the senior pastor, associate pastor, principal of the College, and parents of students at the College.209 The College Council
was responsible for the ‘general activities of the College under the leadership of the Church Board’.210 The principal of the College and the College Council managed the day-to-day business
of the College,211 but certain matters were referred to the Church Board for ratification, including appointment of staff, policies, budgets,