Was the Hillsong founder covering up sexual abuse or trying to care for a survivor?
Update: The court will rule on Brian Houston’s guilt on August 16.
Sydney court magistrate Gareth Christofi has been presented with two very different portraits of Hillsong megachurch founder Brian Houston.
According to the Crown prosecutor, making his final argument in court on Thursday, Houston is a liar. He did everything he could to conceal his father’s sexual abuse and protect his own reputation and power.
The defense, on the other hand, depicts Houston as an imperfect human doing his best in a difficult situation. Among other things, he sincerely believed that the survivor of his father’s abuse, by then a grown man, did not want him to go to police.
The survivor, Brett Sengstock, was present in the tiny courtroom in Downing Centre Courthouse in downtown Sydney for the closing arguments in Brian Houston’s trial. He sat just a few meters from Houston as two attorneys debated what the megachurch pastor should have done in 1999 when Sengstock told him what Frank Houston did to him when he was a boy in the 1970s.
Crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison said Brian Houston had “no reasonable excuse” for not reporting his father to the police.
“The Crown submits that the reason was that the accused was trying to protect the reputation of the church and his father,” Harrison said.
Harrison argued there was a culture of cover-up in Hillsong. The church insisted on dealing with everything in-house—including scandals. Houston was so confident in this protective culture, the prosecution argued, he told several people at his two churches explicit details about what his father did to a 7-year-old boy, knowing they wouldn’t report it to the police either.
At the same time, the prosecutor …
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