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The co-founder of Australia-based Christian megachurch Hillsong has been charged with covering up his late father’s historic child sex abuse.
Brian Houston, 67, has denied for years that he held back information relating to his dad’s offenses. He’s faced scrutiny over the case since 2014, when Australia’s royal commission into child sexual abuse heard that pastor Frank Houston—who died in 2004, before the shocking allegations against him were made public—abused multiple boys in the 1970s.
Police in New South Wales confirmed Thursday they had charged Houston with knowingly concealing information related to child sexual offenses. A statement from the force read: “Police will allege in court the man 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.”
The charges followed a two-year investigation by police, and, if Houston is found guilty, he faces a maximum charge of five years in jail. In his own statement, the pastor, who has been living in the United States, denied that he withheld any information about his dad’s historic abuse.
“These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I’ve always been about this matter,” Houston said Thursday, according to The Guardian. “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.”
Hillsong defended its founder, saying that it was “disappointed” about the charges and adding: “We ask 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. We thank all who are a part of our church for their support and prayers at this time.”
Weeks before Houston was charged, Hillsong church said in a lengthy statement that its founder learned about his father’s abuses when he was 45, and confronted his dad as soon as he became aware of the allegations. Hillsong also claims that the victim in question asked Houston not to inform police—a claim that was reportedly denied by the victim.
Hillsong was founded by Houston and his wife, Bobbie, in the 1980s. The church claims to have an average weekly global attendance of around 150,000 people, with places of worship across the world. Earlier this year, the church was abandoned by one of its most high-profile followers, Justin Bieber, who said he became disillusioned with church leaders.
Houston is a personal friend of Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and made an official visit to the Trump-era White House in Dec. 2019.
He’s scheduled to appear in a Sydney court on Oct. 5.