Brian Houston has stepped down as the leader of the global multisite Hillsong Church, saying he will remain absent for the rest of this year as he faces trial for allegedly concealing sex abuse committed by his father decades earlier. Phil and Lucinda Dooley will be new interim global pastors.
"Last year, I ... received unexpected news of charges against me that allege the concealing of information that may have been material to prosecute Frank Houston. These allegations came as a shock to me, and it is my intention to vigorously defend them," Houston told the church in a statement on Sunday. "So I have agreed to step aside from all ministry responsibilities until the end of the year."
Last August, police officials announced that Houston was being charged with "concealing child sex offenses," The Associated Press reported at the time. "Police will allege in court [that 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," stated Australian authorities, as quoted by the AP.
In a statement through Hillsong at the time, Houston expressed "shock" at the charges. "These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I've always been about this matter," he said. "I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight."
Houston explained in Sunday's statement that during a December board meeting, Hillsong's external legal counsel advised that "it would be 'Best Practice' for me to step aside completely from church leadership during the court proceedings," which are likely to be drawn out and take up most of 2022.
Houston, who founded the global church network in the suburbs of Sydney in 1983, said he intends "to fight the charge and welcome the opportunity to set the record straight," adding that his wife, Bobbie, "intends to remain fully engaged in church life."
Houston also announced that Phil Dooley and his wife, Lucinda, who are currently leading the Hillsong ministry in South Africa, will be interim (or acting) global senior pastors.
"The Dooleys are well-loved by many in our church, having successfully served as our youth pastors in Australia for many years," he said. "Over the last 13 years they, with their family, have resided in South Africa and have raised up a phenomenal multi-campus Hillsong Church."
The probe into whether Houston tried to cover up the incident, in which his late father sexually abused a minor in the 1970s, was initiated years ago. In 2014, in response to that probe, Houston denied knowing anything about the $10,000 compensation payment made to a man who his father sexually abused as a child.
Houston said he was "totally devastated" to learn about his father's abuse and he "had to come to terms with the fact that the person I looked up to was not who I thought he was."