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Hillsong Church Initiates Financial Review After Whistleblower, Australian MP Allege Misuse of Funds

Hillsong Church global senior pastor Phil Dooley apologized March 12 and said the church will launch an independent review of its financial structure and systems after a government official accused founder Brian Houston of misuse of funds and lavish spending.

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie told the Australian parliament March 9 someone had leaked documents to him showing that Hillsong broke financial laws relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, including earning $80 million more income than it reported.

Wilkie also criticized Dooley, who took over as head of the church from Houston last March, for using church funds on business class flights and gifts.

The 17 binders of documents include a 42-page whistleblower disclosure statement that details lavish spending on private jets, lavish vacations, designer goods and custom skateboards, per The Sydney Morning Herald.

Wilkie said church money was used “to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian” and that Houston “treated private jets like Ubers.”

Houston is currently amid another legal case alleging he knew about and covered up past sexual abuse of boys by his father, Frank Houston. The church also has faced multiple accusations of mishandled funds and multiple leadership and financial scandals at its church branches in the United States.

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In September 2021, Brian Houston announced he was stepping down from church boards. He began a year-long sabbatical beginning in early 2022 as part of disciplinary action for moral indiscretions and fully resigned as global senior pastor of Hillsong Church in March 2022.

Dooley said that in addition to a forensic audit conducted by Grant Thornton in reaction to the allegations, the church was engaging a third-party group to re-evaluate its financial structure and systems “to ensure they line up with the mission going forward.” He also said the church had implemented a new gifts and honorariums policy and downsized 153 staff members via voluntary payouts over the past year, reducing costs by more than $10 million.

Dooley said he travels business class on work trips because he has limited time and that he was disappointed Wilkie did not contact him at the church before calling him out publicly.

“It kind of feels like being king hit from behind. But Jesus loves you Mr. Wilkie … Mr. Wilkie, you’re still welcome to attend any of our services,” he said.

Main photo: In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Hillsong founder Brian Houston leaves a hearing in Sydney, Australia / Mick Tsikas / AAP Image via AP

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.