Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has a blunt message for people like his father who sexually abuse children: you’re not welcome.
The senior pastor, who confronted and stopped his father preaching but failed to report him to police, says his global Pentecostal church has zero tolerance for pedophiles.
“For a long, long time I’ve been extremely vocal that no convicted pedophile, nobody who’s made any kind of confession of inappropriate behaviour towards children, is welcome at Hillsong Church at all,” Mr Houston told the child abuse royal commission.
“On numerous occasions we’ve told people they can’t come to church.
“We’ve got a no tolerance policy on pedophiles because we have a massive children’s ministry, obviously, and young persons ministry, so we just don’t believe that it’s the right place for them to be.”
When confronted by his son in 1999, Frank Houston admitted sexually abusing a seven-year-old boy three decades earlier and never preached again. He died in 2004.
The royal commission found Mr Houston and the national executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia – as the Australian Christian Churches was known until 2007 – did not tell police about the allegations.
Frank Houston was allowed to quietly resign but after the Australian organisation learned in 2000 of further abuse allegations involving six boys in New Zealand three decades earlier, Assemblies of God ministers were told his son had suspended his credentials.
Hillsong has now introduced a conflict of interest procedure after the commission found Brian Houston had a conflict in assuming responsibility for dealing with the 1999 allegation because he was both Assemblies of God in Australia national president and the son of the alleged perpetrator.
Mr Houston said new child protection policies and procedures have been rolled out across the whole church, including setting up a safe church office.
“We have been very, very supportive of the goal to make sure our church is as safe a church as it could possibly be.”
Australian Christian Churches national president Wayne Alcorn said the lessons of the royal commission have had a domino effect across Australia’s largest Pentecostal movement.
It now requires its more than 1000 autonomous affiliated churches adopt and adhere to child protection policies, as well as its pastors.
“It is no longer optional. There are minimum standards and we require them,” Mr Alcorn said.
A person is now required to have a certain level of credentials and training before they can call themselves a pastor of the Australian Christian Churches.
“We quickly moved to change the culture and practice of our movement,” Mr Alcorn said.
“I don’t know of churches where people who don’t have at least a probationary minister’s certificate are now called pastor.”
Mr Alcorn said the organisation’s preference is that child abusers do not worship in areas where children and young people are.
“In fact we’ve identified some places where in cities and key regional areas there are places where perpetrators of such crime can actually find a place for worship, personal ministry, etcetera.”
Both Hillsong and the Australian Christian Churches require mandatory reporting of child abuse, the inquiry heard on Friday.