The Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study No. 18 – the response of Australian Christian Churches and affiliated Pentecostal churches to allegations of child sexual abuse, was released today.
The report follows a public hearing held in October last year which examined the response of Hillsong Church in New South Wales, Northside Christian College and Northside Christian Centre (now Encompass Church) in Victoria, Sunshine Coast Church in Queensland and the Australian Christian Churches (formerly the Assemblies of God in Australia) to allegations of child sexual abuse.
Hillsong Church, Assemblies of God and Frank Houston
The hearing heard evidence that when allegations about Mr Frank Houston’s abuse of AHA emerged in 1999, Mr Frank Houston’s son, Pastor Brian Houston, was the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia. He confronted his father, who confessed to the abuse.
The Commissioners express the view that the New South Wales Executive failed to appoint a contact person for the complainant, interview the complainant, have the State or National Executive interview the alleged perpetrator, or record any of the steps it took.
The Commissioners state in the report that Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God did not refer the allegations against Mr Frank Houston to police. They also state that Pastor Brian Houston had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility for dealing with AHA’s allegations as he was both National President of Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of the alleged perpetrator.
Northside Christian College, Northside Christian Centre, Assemblies of God in Australia and Kenneth Sandilands
The Commission heard evidence from Ms Emma Fretton, a former student at the College, who was abused by Mr Kenneth Sandilands from grade 1 in 1986, to grade 5. From 1987 to 1993, other children came forward to members of staff at the College to say that Mr Sandilands had sexually abused them.
The report states that in early 1987, in response to complaints, the Chair of the Church Board, Pastor Denis Smith, and College Principal, Mr Neil Rookes, set behavioural guidelines for Mr Sandilands that prevented him from touching children or being alone with them.
The Commissioners state in the report that by 1992, Pastor Smith was aware of concerns of the parents of two students regarding Mr Sandilands’ behaviour and interactions with students, allegations of inappropriate hugging and touching of children, among other things, in December 1986, March 1987, August 1991 and April 1992, and several breaches of the established guidelines set in 1987.
The Commissioners are satisfied that Pastor Smith had sufficient knowledge that Mr Sandilands posed an unacceptable risk to children at the College from the late 1980s and failed to act to ensure the protection of the children of the College.
Sunshine Coast Church and Jonathan Baldwin
In 2004, Senior Pastor of the Sunshine Coast Church, Dr Ian Lehmann, hired Mr Jonathan Baldwin as Youth Pastor, who later married Dr Lehmann’s daughter. Within a few months of taking up the position Mr Baldwin began sexually abusing ALA. For two years, the abuse continued and escalated.
The Commissioners express the view that Dr Lehmann failed to recognise the indicators of risk of child sexual abuse posed by the behaviours of Mr Baldwin towards ALA, despite personally observing some indicative behaviour and receiving reports of concerns from members of the pastoral team and directors of the Board of the Sunshine Coast Church.
The Commissioners express the view that Dr Lehmann had a conflict of interest as a Senior Pastor who had a personal relationship with Mr Baldwin, and that this contributed to Dr Lehmann’s failure to act protectively towards ALA.
The report states that when Dr Lehmann hired Mr Baldwin as a Youth Pastor, Mr Baldwin did not hold a credential from Australian Christian Churches. The report states that this lack of control over who is able to represent themselves as a pastor of the Australian Christian Churches is a weakness in the necessary safety controls the Australian Christian Churches should have in place in order to protect children.
Read the full report.