The founder of Hillsong Church – the global Pentecostal organization where celebrities like Justin Bieber have been known to worship – has been charged with concealing his late father's child sex crimes.
The abuses of deceased pedophile Pastor Frank Houston – which are alleged to have been covered up by his 67-year-old son, Pastor Brian Houston – reportedly occurred in New Zealand between 1969 and 1970 and involved a then-7-year-old boy.
Brian was subpoenaed by authorities in the New South Wales Police Force in Australia on Thursday afternoon local time by way of his attorney, reports The Australian. The NSW Police began investigating him in 2014.
"Police will allege in court [Brian] 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," officials for Sydney's Royal Commission on Institutional Leaders Handling of Sexual Abuses told local outlets.
According to Brian's own admission in an email newsletter he sent to his congregation last Christmas, he's known of his dad's crimes against the boy for over two decades.
"These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I've always been about this matter," Brian told The Post in a statement. "I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight."
A spokesperson for Hillsong told the outlet that they were "disappointed" by the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
"We are disappointed that Pastor Brian has been charged, and ask that he be afforded the presumption of innocence and due process as is his right," the rep said. "He has advised us that he will defend this and looks forward to clearing his name. Given that this matter is now before the court, neither Pastor Brian or Hillsong Church will be making further statements. We thank all who are a part of our church for their support and prayers at this time."
Frank – who died in 2004 at the age of 82 – founded the Sydney Christian Life Centre in the 1980s. In 1999, Frank's mega-church merged with Hillsong.
That same year, Brian – the then-president of evangelical group the Assemblies of God in Australia – confronted his dad about his then-alleged crimes.
In 2000, Frank confessed to sexually abusing the boy more than 30 years earlier. (He was also accused of abusing up to eight other minors.)
Frank managed to avoided charges – despite having admitted to having a "continuing problem" of sexual interest in young boys – but the scandal did cost him his career.
Though Brian did oust his dad from the church's leadership position, he did not cooperate with authorities or turn over any evidence when given the opportunity to aid law enforcement in its investigation of Frank.
The late churchman's victim, Brett Sengstock – who previously said he was "raped, choked and brutalized" – reportedly told the commission that he met Frank at a McDonald's restaurant in Thornleigh in 2000 and was offered $10,000 (AUD) via a contract drafted up on a dirty napkin.
Brett allegedly said he called Brian after he did not receive the promised payment and later received a check in the mail, believed to have been sent by Brian.
Brian reportedly told the commission he did not report his dad to police dad because Brett was in his mid-30s when the allegations surfaced.
He also reportedly said that Brett did not want his abuses to be made public or reported to law enforcement.
According to reports, Brett previously said he felt "shame, fear and embarrassment" following the incident and that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last year, the embattled church ousted one of its most famous Manhattan fellowship preachers, Carl Lentz, following a cheating scandal.
Of the situation, Brian said, "I think there's a lot of things I should've known earlier, and hopefully, moving forward, we'll make sure we have far better systems in place and better accountability."
Justin Bieber decided to part ways with the organization shortly thereafter.
Hillsong's star-studded congregation has reportedly included celebrities like Justin and Hailey Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Chris Pratt, Katherine Schwarzenegger, Vanessa Hudgens, Nick Jonas, and Bono.