Australian pastor charged with covering up child sex abuse

Brian Houston was told about allegations against his father in 1999 but failed to report them to the authorities. PHOTO: BRIAN HOUSTON/FACEBOOK

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian pastor who founded a megachurch with locations around the world was charged on Thursday (Aug 5) with concealing child sex abuse allegedly carried out by his father in the 1970s.

Police charged 67-year-old Hillsong Church co-founder Brian Houston with failing to report the sexual abuse of a young boy following an investigation lasting years.

Houston is a prominent Pentecostal religious figure in Australia with ties to the country's conservative Prime Minister.

His father, Frank, who died in 2004, has been accused of sexually abusing a seven-year-old boy while a preacher at the Assemblies of God Church.

A royal commission in 2015 found the younger Houston was told about the allegations in 1999 but failed to report them to the authorities, sparking the investigation by police.

Brian has previously rejected allegations of a cover-up and said he confronted his father about the claims at the time.

He said he did not report his dad as the victim told him that he did not want to go public or approach the police.

"These charges have come as a shock to me given how transparent I've always been about this matter," he said in a statement on Thursday.

"I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously appeared at Hillsong Church events and said he has known the pastor "for a long time".

In a statement, Mr Morrison's office said: "This is a police matter. It would be inappropriate to comment."

Police said on Thursday they "will allege in court the man 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".

A statement from Hillsong Church said it was disappointed that the pastor had been charged and that Brian "looks forward to clearing his name".

If found guilty, he faces up to five years in prison.

Hillsong Church operates in 28 countries and has boasted of celebrity followers. It even has its own record label.

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