Hillsong Founder Brian Houston Is Stepping Down After Pleading Not Guilty To Covering Up Child Sex Abuse

The senior global pastor of the megachurch announced Sunday he will step down to "vigorously defend" a criminal charge of concealing child sexual abuse.

Marcus Ingram / Getty Images

Global senior pastor Brian Houston speaks onstage during the grand opening of Hillsong Atlanta on June 6, 2021.

Hillsong founder Brian Houston is leaving his role leading the global megachurch as he faces a criminal charge of concealing child sexual abuse.

"The Hillsong Global Board feel it is in my and the church’s best interest for this to happen, so I have agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year," Houston said in a statement announcing his departure on Sunday.

Houston, 67, was in August charged by authorities in Australia with concealing a serious indictable offense of another person. It came after reports that Houston had concealed information that his late father, Frank Houston, allegedly committed child sexual abuse, according to police.

The pastor “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," police said last year. The information Houston knew could have been used in the effort to prosecute his father, authorities said.

The pastor said the allegations were a "shock" to him, and he entered a not guilty plea in a Sydney court in October. Houston has reportedly been in the US in recent months. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Hillsong for further comment.

Houston and his wife founded Hillsong in 1983 in Sydney. The church now spans 30 countries with an average global attendance of 150,000 weekly, according to the organization's website. Celebrities including Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Kourtney Kardashian have flocked to the services, although Bieber publicly said he was not a member of Hillsong in January 2021 after reports that he was studying to be a pastor with the church.

Houston first scaled back his church leadership after he was charged last year but remained in his post as senior global pastor. Then in December 2021, Hillsong's external legal counsel advised that the pastor completely step down amid ongoing litigation involving the allegations, which Houston said he plans to "vigorously defend."

The court proceedings will likely "be drawn out," Houston said in his statement on Sunday, citing the backlog in criminal trials aggravated by the pandemic. The next hearing in the case is set for March 3.

In the meantime, Pastors Phil and Lucinda Dooley will act as interim global senior pastors, and Houston's wife, Bobbie Houston, will "remain fully engaged in church life," Houston said.

"I have said, including in a prior statement, that I intend to fight the charge and welcome the opportunity to set the record straight," he added in the statement.

In 2014, as part of a government review in Australia into how institutions like churches responded to child sexual abuse, authorities investigated Frank Houston, who was also a pastor. At that time, Brian Houston said he did not report the allegations against his father because the victim was 18 when he came forward.

“Rightly or wrongly I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were just to call the police,” Houston said to the commission at the time. “If this complaint was about someone who was under 18 then and there, I am absolutely certain we would have reported it to the police."

Houston said in a statement to the commission that he was told in October 1999 that a man in his mid-30s known as "AHA" had claimed Frank Houston abused him about 30 years prior.

"While our involvement in this commission does not involve abuse that happened at our church, and there are no allegations against me or Hillsong, I have been touched by the horrific act of child sexual abuse in a very personal way," Brian Houston said in a statement in 2014. "Having to face the fact that my father engaged in such repulsive acts was – and still is – agonising."

The church previously made headlines when Houston in November 2020 fired Carl Lentz, the celebrity pastor of Hillsong's New York City branch, who later admitted to being unfaithful to his wife. In a statement at the time, the church cited "ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures" for the firing.

FINCEN FILES

THE INVESTIGATION THAT CHANGED THE BANKING INDUSTRY

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

READ NOW