A cache of leaked financial documents alleges staggering misconduct and outrageous spending at the Australian megachurch.

On Thursday, March 9, independent MP Andrew Wilkie stood in parliament and announced that he was tabling a giant cache of documents alleging financial malfeasance by the Australian megachurch Hillsong.

“Last year a whistleblower provided me with financial records and board papers that show that Hillsong is breaking numerous laws in Australia and around the world relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion,” he said.

So voluminous is the cache of documents – many thousands of pages – that it took parliamentary staff more than a week to scan them all for public access. They include swaths of financial statements and bank records, and allegedly detail conspicuous personal enrichment, relatively paltry expenditure on good deeds, as well as tax evasion and the systemic rorting of tax exemptions. “By publicly exposing definitive evidence of Hillsong’s improper state of affairs, it will help educate the public to be more vigilant with their due diligence when considering donating to Hillsong and other organisations like it,” the unnamed whistleblower wrote in a disclosure statement, which was also tabled.

The past two years have been blighted for Hillsong. The increasing rivalry between the church’s two great egoists, Houston and Lentz, ended with leaked messages detailing Lentz’s infidelity, and Houston’s sacking of him in 2020 for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures”.

Several internal investigations, conducted by a New York law firm after Lentz’s sacking, found examples of financial irregularity, labour abuses and sexual assault – a whole network of voluntary labour was frequently exploited, while young and earnest women were preyed upon. “Lentz’s ability to lead so poorly was itself the result of insufficient supervision and accountability applied to Lentz himself,” the report, which was leaked to The Christian Post, read. “The Australian mother ship appears also to bear some responsibility here, since it never established effective oversight and accountability for the New York Lead Pastor. This lack of oversight permitted Carl Lentz to assume the role of final arbiter of what was proper behavior for everyone in New York, himself included. With the benefit of hindsight, given Lentz’s personal limitations, this was a recipe for trouble.”

Such were the internal rivalries, high stakes and institutional commitment to controlling the story, that questions remain about how independent the reviews were – and whether their findings were narrowed to minimise scandal and maximise damage against internal enemies.

In 2021, Houston was charged with concealing the crimes of his father, pled not guilty and went on trial last December. That case will conclude this June. Houston said he was surprised when he was first arrested, but the charges were pre-empted in 2015 when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reported: “We are satisfied that, in 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police.”

At the time of his arrest, Houston said he was stepping aside temporarily. But within this great house of God, made in the shadow of his father, things had become unstable and vengeful. The church was leaking conspicuously, and old stories of Houston’s drinking and lechery became public. One year ago, the complaints of two women, in separate incidents from 2013 and 2019, were published. Houston resigned as global senior pastor of Hillsong soon after. “Let me start with the words I want and need most to say – I am so deeply sorry,” his statement read. “To those impacted directly by my actions, I am sorry for the pain I have caused you. To my wonderful, forgiving and gracious family who I love more than anything, I hate hurting you.”

Then last year, Natalie Moses, who had worked at Hillsong’s Sydney headquarters as its fundraising and governance co-ordinator for two years, filed a claim in the Federal Court that she was unlawfully suspended from her job for providing information about the church to the charities regulator. In her statement of claim, she alleged that she was directed to only partially disclose information to the ACNC, and that she was aware of “illegal and unethical” accountancy. In its defence filing, the church strongly denied any wrongdoing. The case is currently in mediation.

And now there are the Hillsong papers.

While Brian Houston profitably sang the prosperity gospel, and preached sun-tanned, Californian positivity, the Good Book’s darker warnings of lust, immodesty and jealous rivalry were undermining his empire. “Sowing and reaping,” thought Houston, “was an eternal principle”, but it’s unclear whether he considered its application to his own earthly deficiencies.

Read More – https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/law-crime/2023/03/18/fraud-money-laundering-inside-the-hillsong-papers#mtr