Assemblies of God leaders alleged to have abused children


Leaders of a New Zealand church agreed to keep details from their congregations about a prominent pastor's sexual abuse of children, it has emerged, as the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care prepares to target clergy.

A special Herald investigation has uncovered fresh allegations and evidence of child abuse perpetrated by two leaders of the Assemblies of God (AOG) before both abusers left New Zealand to continue their ministries in Australia.

Meanwhile, the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care has confirmed to the Herald that it considers its terms of reference to include "pastoral care", significantly broadening its investigations into the actions of churches.

The Herald has confirmed that fresh allegations of abuse by the AOG's former leading light, Pastor Frank Houston, have been provided to the Royal Commission.

One allegation, that he sexually abused a child between 1945-1948 while helping run a Salvation Army children's home in Temuka, opens up the span of Houston's alleged predatory behaviour to cover decades.

Houston left New Zealand in 1977 to start a church in Sydney, which has since grown to become Hillsong Church, one of Australasia's biggest evangelical movements. He died in 2004, having admitted just two instances of sexual abuse, saying it was "a continuing problem".

A Herald investigation has identified about 10 separate instances of children allegedly being sexually abused by Houston.

The investigation also uncovered allegations that Pastor Jim Williams, another former leader of the AOG in New Zealand, sexually assaulted at least two girls in the 1960s.

Houston was General Superintendent of Assemblies of God in New Zealand from 1965 until 1977 when he left for Australia. Williams was General Superintendent from 1977 to 1989 and then also left for Australia. Both are now dead.

Williams was replaced as General Superintendent in 1989 by Pastor Wayne Hughes, who resigned in 2005 on health grounds after an allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour with a teenager.

Former General Superintendent of Assemblies of God Frank Houston. Photo / Supplied
Former General Superintendent of Assemblies of God Frank Houston. Photo / Supplied

An Australian Royal Commission, set up to investigate how institutions managed claims of abuse, found fault in the handling of child sexual abuse claims by Assemblies of God in Australia, now called Australian Christian Churches.

Evidence gathered by the Australian Royal Commission shows the New Zealand church authority left it to the Australian institution to deal with Frank Houston - even though the Australian president at the time was Houston's son Brian, founder of Hillsong.

The Assemblies of God in New Zealand also agreed - in writing - to keep Houston's abuse secret unless it had to, and when pushed, to tell only its ministers.

It did so in a letter in 2002 which included the statement: "We cannot see any reason for this to be announced to your church or further afield."

Pastor Don Barry of Hamilton's Gateway Church took his congregation out of the Assemblies of God over frustration at the response to his attempts to shine a light on Houston's abuse. Barry has produced evidence showing he raised concerns of specific instances of abuse by Houston from 1994 onwards and that church authorities did not deal with the complaints until 2001.

Yet Assemblies of God in New Zealand General Secretary Darren Gammie said evidence of Houston's offending against children did not emerge until August 2000. He said the church leadership group moved quickly to deal with the issue.

He said the Assemblies of God in New Zealand executive saw "sexual abuse of children as reprehensible and abhorrent, as is any attempt to cover up such offending".

"Those who were known to have been abused (by Houston) were contacted by (Assemblies of God in New Zealand) executive members in order to apologise and to ascertain their desired pathway for resolution."

He said the executive knew nothing of sexual assault allegations involving Williams or claims Houston had been confronted as early as the 1970s.

"The Assemblies of God has consistently sought to deal with the allegations regarding Jim Williams and Frank Houston with an evidence-based, reasonable and respectful approach."

The Australian Royal Commission heard evidence from two New Zealanders about sexual abuse by Houston, carried out under cover of his ministry.

A South Island victim of Houston's, David, told the Herald he had provided evidence to the New Zealand Royal Commission of the abuse he had suffered. He said he wanted to see a full inquiry into Houston's abuse.

Former General Superintendent of Assemblies of God, Jim Williams. Photo / Supplied
Former General Superintendent of Assemblies of God, Jim Williams. Photo / Supplied

A Salvation Army spokeswoman told the Herald it had also provided information on Frank Houston to the Royal Commission. She said it passed on information relating to an allegation of abuse it had received in 2003 relating to Frank Houston's time as a lieutenant helping run the Bramwell Booth Children's Home in Temuka.

The Herald has also learned the Australian inquiry heard from one of Williams' accusers, Caroline Andrews, who died 18 months ago. Andrews told the Royal Commission she and sister Joanne Ridge were sexually targeted by Williams between 1960 and 1963 when they were aged 11 and 12.

Ridge told the Herald she was visited by an envoy of Williams years later with a letter from him expressing a hope she was well and that he would pray for her. She was not allowed to keep the letter, which was burned by the envoy.

Williams later came to New Zealand, spent almost two decades preaching here, then returned to Australia. He apologised for adultery while a pastor then failed to have his preaching credentials renewed in New Zealand when it emerged he had not disclosed the extent to which he was having sex with members of his congregation.

Frank Houston was a pivotal figure in the Pentecostal movement in Australasia. His son, New Zealand-born Brian Houston, founded Hillsong by merging his church with Frank Houston's. Hillsong now has 150,000 members in more than 20 countries around the world. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called Brian Houston a "mentor".

A spokesman for Hillsong Church would not field questions about Frank Houston's abuse of children. He said: "Frank Houston was a credentialed New Zealand Assemblies of God pastor in those years, and they are the right body to be dealing with these historical complaints."

Brian Houston said in a statement he found it "agonising" that his father had engaged in "such repulsive acts", although he recognised it was more painful for the victims of abuse.

Frank Houston was also an important leader and pastor to Paul de Jong, founder of New Zealand's Life churches. De Jong said he became aware of allegations of abuse by Frank Houston between 2010 and 2012. He said it was a "complete shock and a deep disappointment".

"My response at the time was that if that was true, there should be no tolerance for it whatsoever, and it needed to be dealt with by the police."

De Jong said he would provide whatever assistance was required by the New Zealand Royal Commission. "I am more than willing to ensure that we stamp out sexual abuse wherever possible."

New Zealand Police have found only one record of a complaint against Frank Houston, lodged in 2019. Evidence before the Australian Royal Commission suggested one victim - or his representative - had contacted New Zealand Police about Frank Houston, but was told Houston's age, health and time away in Australia meant extradition was unlikely.

What happened when

Assemblies of God leaders, 1965-2005

1965-1977: Frank Houston (died 2004)
1977-1989: Jim Williams (died 2015)
1989-2005: Wayne Hughes

Key events

1945-1948:

Frank Houston allegedly commits abuse at a Salvation Army boys' home in Temuka. The complaint does not emerge until 2003.

1960:

Houston allegedly abuses a small boy, David, in the South Island.

1960-63

: Jim Williams allegedly abuses 11-year-old twin sisters Joanne Ridge and Caroline Andrews in Melbourne.

1969-74:

Houston abuses Sydney boy Brett Sengstock from age 7 to 12. In 1999 Houston apologises and pays Sengstock A$2000.

Mid-1970s:

A young man in Palmerston North tells a visiting pastor Houston sexually assaulted him.

1994:

Pastor Don Barry in Hamilton tells two senior ministers in the Assemblies of God about allegations of child sexual abuse by Houston.

1994:

Williams is banned from AOG ministry in NZ for his predatory sexual pursuit of women.

1999:

Barry tells AOG leaders about two new abuse claims against Houston.

2000:

The AOG agrees Houston will never preach again, but neither the NZ nor the Australian AOG will publicly reveal the sex abuse allegations unless forced to do so.

2002:

Wayne Hughes writes a confidential letter to AOG ministers, acknowledging "serious sexual offences" by Houston and "sexual failure" by Williams, with no mention of child victims.

2005:

Hughes resigns on health grounds after an allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour with a teenager.

2014

The Royal Commission in Australia hears evidence suggesting up to 10 known victims of Houston's abuse.

(Source)


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