The multimillion-dollar Hillsong Church does not have a policy of offering financial compensation to people who have allegedly suffered child sexual abuse within the organisation, a royal commission has heard.
Founder and senior pastor of the global church, Brian Houston, returned to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Friday to show how safety procedures have improved since he first gave evidence to the inquiry in 2014.
The commission heard Hillsong had adopted robust policies that cover improved training and screening of staff, complaints handling and response to alleged victims.
Hillsong has no financial redress policy but Mr Houston told the inquiry: “That doesn’t mean that we’re not open to it.”
Hillsong’s 2015 annual report shows its total revenue was $112,794,565.
The church offers non-monetary support to alleged victims such as counselling and psychological care, the inquiry heard.
Mr Houston told the inquiry Hillsong was waiting on more detail about the federal government’s $4 billion national redress scheme before making a decision about opting in.
“We will consider [it], absolutely,” he said. “It’s a little hard to know what you are signing up for when there is no information about it.”
Hillsong is the best-known organisation among Australian Christian Churches (ACC), the national umbrella body that includes more than 1000 Pentecostal churches.
The commission heard the bulk of the churches were small operations which may not be able to put money towards a national redress scheme.
“Many have very limited, if any, resources,” ACC national president Wayne Alcorn told the inquiry.
“Their capacity to contribute … in the area of finances is one that is in question.
“Our heart is towards the survivors, it’s just a matter of our capacity.”
Mr Alcorn told the commission ACC has improved child protection procedures, including better training, governance and the introduction of a helpline managed by an external specialist organisation.
“We did a lot of soul-searching,” Mr Alcorn said. “We needed to enhance our culture of responsibility.”
Mr Houston told the commission Hillsong had a “no-tolerance policy” banning convicted paedophiles but conceded it was impossible to completely weed out potential offenders.
“There is a degree of safeguard there [but] you never quite know, deep down in someone’s head or mind or heart, what might be going on,” he said.
“I can’t vouch that we would catch every single person who was unhealthy.”
A report released by the commission in 2015 found Mr Houston failed to tell police his father Frank was a self-confessed child abuser. It noted he had a clear conflict of interest in dealing with the case himself.
Hillsong has introduced a conflict of interest policy as part of its improved procedures.
“We’ve been very, very supportive of the goal to make sure our church is as safe as it could possibly be,” Mr Houston said.
The hearing, before Justice Peter McClellan, has adjourned.
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