Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has been found not guilty of concealing his father’s sex offenses.
On Thursday, an Australian court ruled Houston, 69, was not guilty of covering up child sex abuse allegations against his father, late preacher Frank Houston, according to NBC News.
Brian Houston, who was the Sydney-based church’s senior global pastor, was charged in 2021 with concealing child sex offenses and stepped down from his role months later.
At the time, police said in a statement to PEOPLE that, “Police will allege in court [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.”
However, per the Associated Press, Sydney Magistrate Gareth Christofi ruled on Thursday that Houston had a reasonable excuse for not reporting his father — who died in 2004 without being charged — to the police. Christofi accepted that Houston believed that victim Brett Sengstock did not want the abuse reported to the police.
Sengstock, who waived his right to anonymity, testified in the trial that he never told Houston not to report the abuse, which happened in the 1970s.
In 2015, Australian officials contended that Hillsong leaders became aware of the allegations against Frank Houston in 1999, but did not share that information with police.
Houston’s father confessed to the abuse allegations prior to his death at the age of 82. He is believed to have abused as many as nine boys while in his position as pastor, according to the BBC.
Sengstock told reporters outside court on Thursday that the verdict blamed him for the church’s failure to report Frank Houston.
“Frank Houston was no pioneer for Christianity. His legacy remains a faded memory of a pedophile,” Sengstock said according to AP.
“Regardless of today’s outcome, I have received a life sentence. Blaming the victim is as repulsive as the assaults themselves,” he added.
Also speaking outside court, Brian Houton said, “I want to express my sadness to Brett Sengstock, genuine sadness about what my father did to him and all his victims. He was obviously a serial pedophile. We probably will never know the extent of his pedophilia.”
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“A lot of people’s lives have been tragically hurt and for that I’ll always be very sad. But I’m not my father,” he added.
Per the AP, Hillsong released a statement following the ruling saying, “Our prayer is that those impacted deeply and irrevocably by the actions of Frank Houston will find peace and healing, and that our former senior pastor Brian Houston and his family can look to the future and continue to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives.”
According to the BBC, Sengstock was 7 years old when he was first abused by Frank Houston in his family home, with the abuse then continuing over several years.
In a previous statement to the AP in 2021, Brian Houston said the “charges have come as a shock to me.” “I vehemently profess my innocence and will defend these charges, and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight,” he added.
PEOPLE previously confirmed that Australian authorities began investigating the Hillsong founder in 2019. He confirmed he was stepping down from his position on the board in September 2021 ahead of his trial, which began in December 2022.
For several years, Hillsong Church services hosted many celebrities, including Hailey and Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, Vanessa Hudgens, Austin Butler, Chris Pratt, Katherine Schwarzenegger, Kourtney Kardashian and Kendall and Kylie Jenner.