‘Gossip’: Morrison sidesteps claim Hillsong pastor snubbed by White House | World news

Scott Morrison has sidestepped questions about whether he wanted the Hillsong Church pastor Brian Houston to be a guest at Friday night’s glittering black-tie state dinner hosted by Donald Trump, characterising the reports as “gossip”.

Asked whether it was true that he had lobbied to have Houston attend the dinner and been knocked back by the White House, the Australian prime minister told travelling reporters: “I don’t comment on gossip. It’s all gossip.”

Pressed several times whether that characterisation meant the story wasn’t true, Morrison repeated his formulation. “It’s gossip. I think I’ve answered the question.”

The Wall Street Journal revealed Morrison had wanted the Hillsong Church pastor to be a guest at the state dinner at the Rose Garden in the White House, which included special guests Lachlan Murdoch (but not his father, Rupert), the billionaire box magnate Anthony Pratt, miners Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rinehart, and the golfer Greg Norman.

But according to the Journal, the White House declined Morrison’s request.

Houston, the founder of the evangelical Hillsong Church, failed to alert the police about allegations his father, Frank, had sexually assaulted children, and had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for dealing with the accusations, according to the findings of the 2014 royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

Frank Houston abused up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand and, in its final report, the royal commission found multiple failings within the church executive – at the time led by Brian – in responding.

Morrison attended the opening session of the Hillsong annual conference with his wife, Jenny, shortly after the May federal election. They are regulars at the event. Morrison told worshippers this year Australia needed more prayer and more love.

A spokesman for Morrison did not deny the report, and on Friday evening local time said in a statement: “Invitations to the state dinner are entirely at the discretion of the White House and, as has been the case previously, is expected to include people from all walks of life from politics to sport to business, entertainment, science and technology and religion.”

Houston said in a statement: “I have had no invitation to the White House and I have had no discussion with the prime minister or anyone else about this.

“Hillsong Church received no inquiry from any party as to my details or availability. As far as I’m concerned this is baseless rumour and totally false news. It is extremely disappointing that media outlets spread these unfounded rumours, and attempts to link this untrue story to the royal commission are unconscionable.”

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