Hillsong’s legal response to misleading statements by 60 Minutes

21 November 2018

Personal details redacted – addressed to Channel 9 legal team.

As per the correspondence, Hillsong vehemently denies there was a lack of transparency or ‘hiding’ by its leadership of any of the issues surrounding the abuse committed against minors by Frank Houston.

Hillsong and Brian Houston have made it clear on multiple occasions that they are incredibly grieved for the victims and the hurt and pain that the criminal actions of Frank Houston has caused them. The victim you interviewed on your episode is no exception. We wish to emphasise that all of these criminal actions occurred before Hillsong Church existed.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of false statements and/or mis-representations made on the 60 minutes segment regarding the handling of the abuse by Frank Houston following the disclosure of the abuse.

1. Misrepresentations as to the relationship between the denomination (Assemblies of God in Australia) and Hillsong Church
Your program made certain statements that in Hillsong’s view, led your viewers to believe that they were one and the same. This is evidenced by comments on your Twitter posts. The denomination is a collective of autonomous churches with a common statement of faith, and as a result, credentials the ministers of the denomination. The information regarding these responsibilities are publicly available.

2. Assertions that Frank Houston’s abuse only came to public knowledge when Bob Cotton and others became aware at the Royal Commission
This assertion is plainly false. Frank Houston’s criminal actions were well known to the general Hillsong Church community prior to the Royal Commission and had been spoken about many years prior to the Royal Commission in public church services at Hillsong Church.

It is Hillsong’s understanding that Bob Cotton’s relationship with the Assemblies of God in Australia, now Australian Christian Churches (“ACC”), is that he is a credentialed minister and oversees an autonomous church in the ACC. He has no other relationship with Hillsong Church and to our knowledge, was at no time a congregant of Hillsong Church. The so called ‘evidence’ of a letter from the AOG/ACC did not evidence that this issue was concealed, rather it was communication to other congregation ministers in the denomination explaining that Frank Houston had been removed from ministry, not to the congregants of Hillsong Church.

3. Perpetuation of the statement: “Never revealed the awful truth”.
As previously stated in multiple media releases and statements made to the Hillsong congregation on numerous occasions, Pastor Brian Houston consistently referenced Frank Houston’s criminal conduct as child abuse and pedophilia. There was no ‘innuendo’ and ‘hiding’ of this issue. At the time, Hillsong’s congregation was in the tens of thousands of people.

4. Perpetuation of the statement: “they go out of their way to avoid Franks crimes becoming common knowledge”.
With regards to the above details referenced, this is plainly a false and misleading statement. It is Hillsong’s position that any appropriate and meaningful enquiries by 60 minutes would have revealed these facts.

5. Representations that it was the ‘Church’s lawyers’ that dealt with the lawsuit that resulted in the victims settlement.
This representation is grossly misleading. The action referred to in this episode had nothing to do with Hillsong Church or Brian Houston. It was a matter between the victim and the ACC. Hillsong had no involvement in these proceedings.

6. Representations that it was only Brian Houston and the denominational executive that were aware of the abuse and as a result Brian Houston controlled the hiding of the disclosure.
This representation is clearly false. Brian Houston was not the first to know about the abuse, and once becoming aware, it was Brian Houston that reported to the ACC who then immediately took action resulting in the commencement of disciplinary proceedings against Frank Houston.

Hillsong continues to stand by the statements it has made regarding this matter including that Hillsong has diligently implemented recommendations of the Royal Commission and continues to work toward best practice in its Safe Church implementation strategies.

As previously detailed, it is abundantly clear, through available evidence, that the victim was an adult in mid 30’s when Hillsong Church and Brian Houston became aware of the abuse, and the victim did not want the matter reported to the police.

To prevent the further escalation of the aforementioned issues, Hillsong requests that 60 minutes and other channel nine outlets make a statement substantially similar to the following:
“On the 18 November 2018 we ran a story on Frank Houston and the involvement in said investigation by his son Brian Houston and Hillsong Church. Hillsong Church has since been in touch with Nine and we would like to clarify the following representations. The denomination known at the time as the Assemblies of God in Australia is the denomination and Hillsong Church is one of many autonomous churches that were part of the AOG at the time. The lawsuit referred to in our story was between the victim and the denomination, not Brian Houston or Hillsong Church. Brian Houston was not the first to hear of the abuse by Frank Houston and when he became aware, immediately confronted his father and Frank Houston never ministered again. For years prior to the Royal Commission and following, Brian Houston disclosed the abuse by Frank Houston to the many thousands of attendees at Hillsong Church congregations and in those disclosures, specifically referred to child abuse and pedophilia. It is clear that Brian Houston did not hide or conceal his father’s crimes. Brian Houston and Hillsong Church have made it clear that they are incredibly grieved on behalf of the victim and acknowledge the inexcusable crimes committed against him by Frank Houston well before the existence of Hillsong Church. For further information from Hillsong Church on the matter, you can visit: https://hillsong.com/media-releases/statement-from-hillsong-church-re-60-minutes-story/

All rights are reserved.

Kind regards,
Timothy Whincop
General Counsel