Last year, a Royal Commission found that a Pentecostal leader covered up the abuse of a seven-year-old. Yesterday, Scott Morrison wilfully shared a stage with him. His apathy toward victims is painfully clear.
On July 5, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny stood on a stage beside Pastor Brian Houston, a Pentecostal religious leader censured last year by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse for covering up the sexual abuse of a seven-year-old boy, abuse that continued for five years. The occasion was a Hillsong church conference, and Morrison used the opportunity to call for more love in Australia, and less judgement. Morrison has a long association with Brian Houston and described him in his maiden speech to parliament as his mentor.
The abuse concealed from authorities by Houston was perpetrated by his father, Frank now deceased, also a pastor and a founder of the Hillsong church. The Royal Commission found that Houston the younger failed to follow the church’s own protocol on the abuse of children, did not support the victim, and failed to notify police of his father’s crimes. Indeed, Houston is reported to have told the victim it was his own fault for “coming on to” Frank.
In the last six months two former Liberal Prime Ministers, John Howard and Tony Abbott, publicly demonstrated their support for convicted child sex abuser Cardinal George Pell. This support included a glowing character reference to the court from Howard, and phone calls from Abbott to Pell in jail. Abbott also declared that Pell’s conviction was a “devastating result” for Catholics. Abbott has a long relationship with Pell, whom he has described as his “colleague and mentor.”
It is somewhat unnerving that three Liberal Prime Ministers have sought the counsel of men who are deeply involved in the sexual abuse of children, either as the perpetrator, protector of the perpetrator, or in Pell’s case, both. What is even more unnerving is that not one of the three Prime Ministers has seen fit to distance himself from the accused men, despite the allegations being proven in the case of Pell, and admitted in the case of Houston. None of the Prime Ministers appears to have the slightest compunction about acknowledging their long and ongoing personal relationships with these men, for whom they continue to profess admiration, respect and esteem.
Indeed, so comfortable with his mentor is Scott Morrison that he and his wife publicly prayed with him at a televised event.
What this deliberately public support implies is that the Prime Ministers do not believe the victims, or perhaps, even worse, they do believe the victims, but regard the crimes committed against them as irrelevant. Let’s not forget these are Prime Ministers we’re talking about, the leading legislators in the country. All three of them admit to having sought advice, political and spiritual, two from Pell and one from Houston.
Victims and survivors are irrelevant, is the message we hear from the fraternisation of powerful men and their wives with the men who abuse and conceal the abuse of children.
This message is a punch to the hearts of survivors. If the leader of your country consorts with those who have committed or concealed child sexual abuse, how can your country ever be safe for you? The Prime Ministers have given permission for anyone to disbelieve you, and this leads us into a narrative with which survivors are heartbreakingly familiar.
When Morrison, for example, does not acknowledge what his friend and mentor Houston has done, his silencing of the truth creates a disturbing repetition of the original circumstances of sexual abuse. Survivors well know the overwhelming despair provoked by the impossibility of speaking out against someone far more powerful. The soul ache of being disbelieved returns as you witness the powerful embrace enablers and perpetrators. The sense of helplessness, of being unable to make yourself heard against the clamour and importance of those more powerful than you were as a child, returns.
A tone is set by the Prime Ministers. It becomes the zeitgeist. It says, powerful men or men embraced by powerful men can do anything they like, and it will be overlooked. This is the belief of our time, a belief that is evident far beyond the circumstances of child sexual abuse, but is perhaps most horrifyingly distilled in that specific circumstance.
According to this report, police re-opened their investigation into Houston’s handling of the sex crimes committed by his father in 2018. It is simply not credible to think that the Morrisons are unaware of this situation. They choose to overlook it. We watch as our Prime Minister and his wife worship with a man who concealed sexual crimes against small children.
Morrison stated in his maiden speech that he believes in the “immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith.” It is reasonable to conclude from this statement, together with his choice of spiritual mentor, that protecting children from sexual abuse might not be one of those Christian principles in which he so steadfastly believes.
The friendship, trust and very public support of a Prime Minister, current or past, are powerful weapons of normalisation. In standing side by side with Brian Houston, Scott and Jenny Morrison have resoundingly contributed to the normalisation of Houston’s failure to properly act against a perpetrator of sexual crimes.
When a country, led by its Prime Minister, creates a climate for the normalisation of sexual crimes against children, that country has lost all claim to principles.
Sadly, we seem to lack any political voice powerful enough to challenge this moral collapse.