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Hillsong leader Brian Houston steps down to fight charge he hid father’s sex abuse

The leader of the Australian-based global megachurch Hillsong will step down as he fights a charge of covering up child sex offenses committed by his father, he said Sunday.

Brian Houston, charged in Sydney in August of last year with concealing a serious indictable offense, said he had already been told to step aside from all Hillsong boards.

And “in December, during our board meeting, Hillsong’s external legal counsel gave the board advice regarding the current charge I am facing — that it would be ‘Best Practice’ for me to step aside completely from church leadership during the court proceedings,” Houston, 67, wrote in a statement.

“We have talked about the effects of the situation with my father, which go back many years up to the current legal case, and the impact this has had on me emotionally,” he wrote. “The result is that 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.”

“I need to be fully committed to preparation and engagement with the case and work closely with my lawyers in defending this charge,” he said. His lawyer said in October that he planned to plead not guilty. 

In August, Australian police said they would “allege in court the man (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.”

A government inquiry found that Houston became aware of allegations against his preacher father, Frank Houston, in 1999 and allowed him to retire quietly rather than report him to police. His father confessed to the abuse before he died in 2004 at age 82, The Associated Press reported. 

Houston has suggested that the charge against him was related to allegations that his father had abused a boy over several years in the 1970s.

Houston said the charge of covering up the abuse had come as a “shock,” and he was innocent. “I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight,” Houston said.

Houston told the government inquiry that he did not report his father’s abuse to the police because the victim at that point was in his thirties and did not want the authorities involved, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.  

Instead, the outlet said, Frank Houston was suspended from preaching.

Frank Houston was the founder of Sydney Christian Life Centre, which eventually came under Brian Houston’s leadership and merged to become Hillsong.

Hillsong, which describes itself as a “contemporary Christian church,” was founded in Australia in 1983. It has grown to include locations in more than 20 countries; its locations in the U.S. have included New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Hillsong brand also includes a Grammy-winning record label, a training program and a television channel.

The church is known for attracting a number of celebrity worshippers, including Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey; Chris Pratt and his wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger; Kourtney Kardashian; and Kylie and Kendall Jenner.

Houston said Sunday that his wife Bobbie, his co-global senior pastor, “intends to remain fully engaged in church life.”

Meanwhile, Pastor Phil and Lucinda Dooley, the lead pastors of Hillsong Church South Africa, will step into the role of “Interim (or Acting) Global Senior Pastors.”

In a statement, the Dooleys said “We know that Hillsong Africa is healthy and strong and this has made it easier for us to be obedient to the call to lead our global church for a season.”

They said they would be returning to Africa and their “vision to build 50 churches in 50 influential cities across Africa is on track.”

“Your prayers would be much appreciated during this time,” the Dooleys said. “Please pray for Pastors Brian and Bobbie as they navigate a very challenging season.”

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