Overhaul of Pentecostal churches needed to protect children, royal commission hears

Australian Pentecostal churches might have to enforce a strict national child protection policy as a condition of registration with their umbrella body Australian Christian Churches, a royal commission has heard.

The national president of Australian Christian Churches, Wayne Alcorn, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse that the organisation would review its structure after listening to shocking cases of abuse which occurred at three affiliated churches.

A mandatory and enforceable child protection policy for the ACC's 1000 churches will be discussed at the national executive conference in April next year.

"We will seriously examine whether or not we can demand, for ongoing registration, the adoption and adherence to a policy for child protection," he said.

Churches registered with the ACC are independently run by their senior pastors and not currently required to adopt any policies from their umbrella body.

Mr Alcorn said to introduce an enforceable policy would, "challenge the fabric of who we are as a movement of autonomous churches."

John Hunt, the state president of ACC Queensland, told the royal commission that the body did not currently monitor individual churches, enforce compliance of its policies or sanction churches which did not adopt them.

"There would be nothing ... that would demand a church adhere to the policies that we have recommended," he said.

He told the commission the ACC had the power to approve a pastor's credentials and ask them to abide by a code of conduct.

The royal commission was told that a youth pastor who repeatedly molested a teenage boy at a Pentecostal church in Queensland started ministering to at least 80 young people in 2004 despite not receiving his credentials from the ACC until July 2005.

Ian Lehmann, the senior pastor of the church at the time, is the father-in-law of the offender, Jonathan Baldwin.

Baldwin was convicted over the offences in 2009 and sentenced to eight years jail but has since been released.

The royal commission previously heard that Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston was involved in the disciplining of his late father Frank Houston, when allegations of child abuse came to light.

Mr Alcorn told the commission that ACC's ministerial code of conduct failed to address familial conflicts of interest but this would be reviewed.

The public hearing is examining the response of Australian Christian Churches and affiliated Pentecostal churches to allegations of child sexual abuse.