PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has to come clean about whether he wanted Hillsong's Brian Houston at a White House State dinner in September because "Australians deserve to know the truth", said a Hunter Christian pastor "embarrassed" by Mr Morrison's continued public support for the church leader.
"After giving such powerful support for survivors in the national apology on October 22 last year, when he promised Australia would do things differently to the way they were done before, he stands with Brian Houston while a police investigation is ongoing," Maitland pastor Bob Cotton said.
"It appears he has accepted what he has been told by this church. If that's the case he's failed every Australian in this, and he's certainly failed every survivor."
Mr Cotton strongly criticised Mr Morrison for dismissing questions about the issue as "gossip".
The prime minister's actions suggested he had not read royal commission findings, documents and transcripts about Mr Houston's, and Hillsong's, handling of child sex allegations against Mr Houston's father, Frank, Mr Cotton said.
"It's embarrassing to see our prime minister appearing to follow what he's been told, which is half truths and deceptions about Frank Houston and how the church leadership, including Brian Houston, responded," Mr Cotton said.
"And if he did read the royal commission findings and church documents showing how it covered-up for Frank, then what is the prime minister doing?
"Mr Morrison needs to understand this situation is not going away."
Mr Cotton was a close friend of Frank Houston in the final years of his life after serious allegations were raised against him in Australia and New Zealand in 1999 and 2000, and Mr Houston was allowed to retire to the Central Coast on a church pension.
He last spoke at Mr Cotton's Maitland church only weeks before he died in November, 2004. The royal commission found Brian Houston and his church failed to report allegations about Frank Houston to police or the Commission for Children and Young People.
Mr Cotton said he was "blindsided" by a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing into Australian Christian Churches and Hillsong in October, 2014, where the extent of offending by Frank Houston, and knowledge of allegations by church executives including Brian Houston, was revealed.
Hillsong statements over the years about the church's and Mr Houston's "decisive and immediate action", and denials of covering-up Frank Houston's offending, were contradicted by church documents tendered to the royal commission and available on its website, Mr Cotton said.
They include the Assemblies of God's first formal general notice to "all ordained and probationary ministers" in the church on December 24, 2001, advising them about a "serious accusation" against Frank Houston that was raised with Brian Houston and the national executive more than two years earlier.
The notice, under the heading "Extremely confidential", referred to a "sexual failure" and a "serious moral failure", but did not include any reference to sexual abuse of a child. It also failed to record that by December, 2001 Frank Houston had admitted that a sexual interest in young boys was "a continuing problem" for him in the 1960s and 1970s.
The notice, written by national executive John Lewis, included that "We have deliberately chosen to restrict this letter to our ordained and probationary ministers".
"We cannot see any reason for this to be announced to your church or further afield. Sadly there are always one or two people with their own agendas who will try and get mileage from other people's pain," said Mr Lewis, who was one of two national executives sent to New Zealand by Brian Houston in 2000 to investigate allegations Frank Houston sexually abused six boys.
A report to the Australian national executive of the New Zealand trip by Mr Lewis and Keith Ainge in November, 2000 included a discussion with the New Zealand Assemblies of God national executive, which had already concluded the allegations were "substantial and they have no reason to doubt them".
One of the aims of the cross-Tasman meeting was to "determine ways in which the two executives can take a common position", the report said.
The Australian and New Zealand churches discussed "the appropriateness of making a public statement in relation to the action of our executive".
"From discussion around the room it became obvious that at least 50 pastors in New Zealand are aware of the allegations," the report to the Australian national executive said.
"John Lewis stressed that the Australian executive preferred not to publish a statement unless Frank failed to comply with our requirement to abstain from all ministry or unless rumours became so bad that it was considered in the best interests of all concerned.
"The New Zealand executive agreed with this approach."
A joint "Statement concerning Frank Houston" was drafted for church ministers, showing the Australian and New Zealand Assemblies of God had investigated "claims of a serious moral failure" and Frank Houston had "admitted to the failure with great remorse", but it was not released.
The draft statement, dated December 8, 2000, gave no detail about the "serious moral failure" and there was no reference to a sexual failure or that it involved sexual abuse of children.
"Frank has accepted that he can no longer minister and we would request that you not invite him to engage in any public ministry. At the same time we would encourage you to extend love and care to Frank, his wife and his family," the draft statement said.
It was prepared "as a response to individuals if they hear rumours and approach the executive for clarification".
"It will only be used publicly if rumours become so extensive that the national executive makes a decision to make a public statement or if Frank Houston fails to fulfil his commitment to abstain from all public ministry," the draft statement said.
It was not released and was first made public 14 years later as a church document during the royal commission.
A special meeting in the Qantas lounge of Sydney Airport on December 22, 1999, called by Brian Houston to discuss allegations against Frank Houston raised by Brett Sengstock, now living at Swansea, noted that the national executive "agreed that the minutes of this meeting be kept confidential and in a special file".
The minutes noted that "legal advice has been obtained as to our obligations in this matter".
Mr Cotton said Mr Morrison was at risk of appearing to swallow the Hillsong narrative about its response to the Frank Houston allegations "hook, line and sinker" and "accepting it as fact without looking at the facts".
"I agree 100 per cent, 200 per cent, that the prime minister has to say whether he wanted Brian Houston at the White House because of the question mark that is open about Brian Houston and how his church dealt with child sex allegations about his father. There is a police investigation that is ongoing.
"All the way through they haven't told the full truth of what happened, how much they knew and how long they knew it. Many people were aware Frank Houston had multiple victims and it was serious abuse, yet in response to direct challenges over the years these senior church people have allowed a false narrative to take hold that what Frank did was just a one-off in New Zealand years ago.
"Everything was minimised to continue building around this narrative it was a single transgression, a single misdemeanour that happened years ago."
Mr Morrison's office was contacted for comment.
Hillsong and Brian Houston were contacted for comment.
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.