An Australian court on Thursday found Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston not guilty of concealing the sexual abuse his father committed against a young male in the 1970s.
Australian police in 2021 charged him with failing to report the sex abuse by his father, Frank Houston, an allegation Brian Houston strenuously denied before stepping down from ministry responsibilities last year.
Judge Gareth Christofi said the younger Houston had a "reasonable excuse" for not reporting the matter and believed that the victim did not want it reported to police.
The court rejected charges that Houston covered up the abuse to protect the church's reputation, saying he spoke openly about his father's crimes.
The victim had given evidence in court that the abuse was a "hideous secret", which he did not want others to know.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, Justin Humphreys, CEO of church safeguarding charity ThirtyOne:Eight, said the verdict gives him "deep sadness".
"I'm not sure that this verdict will go down well amongst many," he said. "I suppose the first thing that I'd like to say, other than that is to to pay tribute to [the victim] for his courage, his perseverance. He and others have suffered the most heinous of acts at the hands of trusted spiritual leaders. So then, at the end of all of this process, to have an acquittal, must seem like just another blow."
He continued: "There's some really interesting and important lessons for us to learn from this, and that are particularly relevant to the UK situation now.
"One of the things that are at the centre of this particular case is the whole concept and implementation of what's known as mandatory reporting. So this case against Brian Houston, hinged upon whether in fact, he withheld allegations or disclosures of child sexual abuse, and whether indeed that was contrary to law that that exists within New South Wales in Australia.
"So in the UK, here, we've we've got a consultation that has literally just closed earlier this week, from the UK government looking at that very same issue. What might mandatory reporting look like here? The key issue that it's at the heart of this is 'the reasonable excuse', ie, what might enable somebody to not to make a report in in these particular circumstances, what was at play here? Did Brian Houston have a reasonable excuse? And I think it's really important for us to think 'how is this likely to play out in the UK because the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse?'.
"It's so important that we take time to consider this properly and get it right."
Taking to Instagram following the verdict, Brian Houston said: "It's been a big day today for Bobbi and I and obviously a not guilty verdict after so many years of persecution is a great feeling. Although, I must say it feels a bit surreal.
"Thank you to all of you that have supported us through this whole saga. We love you."
In a statement, Hillsong Church said it acknowledged the decision of the court and hoped those affected "deeply and irrevocably by the actions of Frank Houston will find peace and healing".
Hillsong's website says Brian Houston founded the "contemporary Christian church" with his wife, Bobbie, in Australia in 1983, in the western suburbs of Sydney. Now it has churches in 30 countries with a global weekly attendance of 150,000.
Houston was forced to resign from his role as senior global pastor of the church last year, following allegations of innapropriate behaviour towards staff.
Following the verdict this morning, Justin maintains Houston shouldn't be allowed to lead a church again.
He continued: "If Brian Houston's quotes that we that we read in the public domain this morning are to be to be taken at face value, he has said he is sad for the impact upon [the victim] and others.
"He has not said he's sorry, and that deeply concerns me because apologies that are heartfelt and well evidenced and understood go a long way to demonstrating whether there is true understanding true repentance, and then a a real sense that change can be brought mistakes have most definitely been made in this situation.
"So I think it's very difficult then to have trust in an individual who still has not yet fully demonstrated their own part in what is a very disturbing and very sad set of circumstances."
Additional reporting by Reuters.