Intimidating and violent: defector
Sydney Morning Herald
December 2, 2009
A former Scientology leader says bullying is widespread in the church, writes investigations reporter Nick O'Malley.
Coerced abortion, violence, intimidation and demands for ever greater "donations" have become unofficial Church of Scientology policy, beginning at its Florida head office and leaching around the world, the church's most senior defector has said.
Marty Rathbun, who until 2004 was the church's second-most powerful man, answering only to the present leader, David Miscavige, said the church leadership was obsessed with destroying dissent and increasing revenue at any cost, the NSW Greens MP John Kaye told Parliament last week.
"It is all about image and money now. It is power, money and image, and it is a direct reflection of Miscavige's personality. It is flowing down from the top," Mr Rathbun said, according to Dr Kaye.
Mr Rathbun was one of four senior executives of the Church of Scientology to defect since 2004 and provide information to the St Petersburg Times in Florida, where the church is based.
Mr Rathbun, who still believes in the practice of Scientology and the teachings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, said many of the allegations detailed in letters written by former Australian church members directly reflect unwritten church policies, Dr Kaye said.
Dr Kaye's speech follows the tabling in Federal Parliament of those letters by Senator Nick Xenophon. They accuse the church of bullying and intimidating its members, of denying access to medical treatment and of demanding that members cover up crimes.
The church's Australian president, Vicki Dunstan, denies the claims and has accused Senator Xenophon of abusing parliamentary privilege. She says the allegations have been invented by disgruntled "apostates".
But according to Dr Kaye, Mr Rathbun said: "The common big three things that they [the Australian complainants] are hitting on are the craziness around what is imposed on the families, including the encouragement of abortion, the incredible commercial emphasis on getting money by any means necessary and the heavy-handed tactics used to silence dissent."
Mr Rathbun said the church had sought to bully members of the Sea Organisation - Scientology's 8000-strong international leadership group, loosely comparable to a priesthood - into having abortions when Mr Miscavige banned anyone in the group from having children in about 1986, shortly after Hubbard's death. Members of the Sea Org, as it is known, symbolically sign billion-year employment contracts.
"But accidents occur and people got pregnant," Dr Kaye reported Mr Rathbun as saying.
"The answer to that became, you know, people began to encourage people to have abortions …
"I know at International Base [the church's head office in Florida] in the late 1980s and early '90s, it was a pretty regular practice that [pregnant] people were told, 'do you want to let mankind down?' "
Mr Miscavige thought Sea Org members would be easier to control and better able to devote long hours to fund-raising if they had no children, Mr Rathbun said, according to Dr Kaye.
Mr Rathbun also traces the culture of physical violence and intimidation raised in some of the Xenophon allegations to Mr Miscavige, Dr Kaye told Parliament. "In about 2000 he got more and more uncontrolled physically and was beating people regularly and assigning more and more tortuous punishments," Mr Rathbun says.
"It got to the point where it was acceptable up there, and I think it rolled down to the other churches … I received reports that it was happening at the continental bases like Australia and England and South Africa, and it became part of church culture."
Mr Rathbun even admits to assaulting Mike Rinder, the organisation's Australian-born head of communications, who also defected.
"It became a culture. I am no angel, I participated. On two occasions I beat Mike up. You know, it was a fight. It wasn't like a smackdown, you know, where Miscavige comes in and you can't do anything. He fought back but I am a bigger guy and it is something that I regretted."
Mike Rinder declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in previous public statements he has confirmed the story.
According to Dr Kaye, Mr Rathbun said the church had become ever more obsessed with raising money.
He estimates that when he left the organisation in 2004 the church had a "war chest" of about $750 million set aside to fight off attacks from legislators or media organisations.
"A lot of people are under so much pressure to increase the sums of their donations that they took huge risks in business or in finance so a lot of people are having personal catastrophes now. Loans are being called in, values of things they invest in have crashed," Dr Kaye reported Mr Rathbun as saying.
It had become common practice to demand employees work 70 or 80 hours a week for as little as $50 pay.
According to Dr Kaye, Mr Rathbun said the church used various methods to silence dissent in its flock.
"One is disconnection from family," he explains. "If I declare you a 'suppressive person', if I expel you, you are never going to be able to talk to your family again.
"Two is your business career, because you lose your network.
"And three is, you are never ever going to be able to get to the holy grail in Scientology and reach spiritual enlightenment because you are expelled. That is three big clubs, and they are being used, increasingly, to extract ever larger and larger sums from people. I don't know what happened in Australia, but I am telling you that it would have stemmed from the phenomenon I observed. It is consistent with that and it has rolled down from the top."
Ms Dunstan denies Mr Rathbun's accusations, describing him as a bitter liar with an axe to grind ever since he was dismissed from the church for "gross breach of duties".
Dr Kaye called on the two main parties to support Senator Xenophon's call for an inquiry into the church.
"These explosive revelations underline the urgency of investigating the operations of the Church of Scientology in Australia. It is possible that recognising the organisation as a religion was a grave mistake that has granted legitimacy to a cult that bullies, intimidate and exploits," he said.
"There is a growing case for comprehensive examination not only of the church leadership in Australia but also of the church itself as a religion."
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