Phil Dooley, the new global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, has pledged to reform the church’s culture and structure after shocking allegations of financial misconduct by its former leaders. He said he was committed to a higher level of accountability and transparency during a Sunday service in Sydney, following an announcement by the board chair that a forensic audit of church spending under Brian and Bobbie Houston, the founders of Hillsong, would be conducted.
Dooley’s statement came after an Australian MP from Tasmania revealed leaked documents that showed how Hillsong funds were used to lavish church leaders with expensive gifts and trips. Andrew Wilkie told parliament that Hillsong members were deceived into thinking that their donations went to help the poor, when in fact they were used to fund extravagant lifestyles for church leaders.
Wilkie claimed that the documents showed that Bobbie Houston received a $6,500 Cartier watch and $2,500 of Louis Vuitton luggage as gifts from the church, and that the Houston family spent $150,000 of church money for a three-day luxury retreat in Cancun. He also accused Brian Houston of using private jets like Ubers, costing tens of thousands of dollars per trip. He said that another couple who worked for Hillsong also enjoyed shopping sprees with church money, including $16,000 for custom skateboards. He added that the church gave out cash gifts to pastors, including $15,000 for one pastor’s birthday and $36,000 for another’s 30th anniversary. He also alleged that two external pastors who investigated allegations of inappropriate texts sent by Brian Houston to a female staff member in 2019 received $10,000 each from Hillsong.
The amounts are unclear whether they are in Australian dollars or US dollars or both.
Wilkie said he obtained the documents from a whistleblower who was part of a court-ordered mediation in a federal case brought by a former Hillsong employee.
The accusations made headlines around the world and shocked some of the estimated 150,000 people who attend Hillsong’s 30 locations worldwide. But they were not news to Hillsong’s inner leadership. The information was part of an ongoing legal process involving Hillsong.
Dooley said he could not change the past but he could play a significant role in changing the future. “Our structure and culture is changing and needs to change more to ensure we are held to a higher level of accountability,” he said.