Former Scientologists allege abuse, intimidation
KATHARINE MURPHY AND MISHA SCHUBERT
November 19, 2009
FORMER members of the Church of Scientology have made explosive allegations about forced abortions, child abuse and financial extortion, prompting calls for a parliamentary inquiry.
Letters tabled by independent senator Nick Xenophon reveal claims of vulnerable people preyed on by a coercive and ruthless organisation that punished and shamed dissenters by physical incarceration, withholding food or intimidation.
But the Church of Scientology hit back, arguing the claims came from seven "disgruntled former members who use hate speech and distorted accounts of their experiences".
They were described as being about "as reliable as former spouses are when talking about their ex-partner".
Under the protection of parliamentary privilege, Senator Xenophon declared the church a "criminal organisation".
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said they were "grave allegations" and left open the prospect of backing a Senate inquiry into the church and its tax breaks. "Many people in Australia have real concerns about Scientology," he said.
One man, Paul Schofield, told Senator Xenophon he lied about his daughter's death while she was in the care of the church to shield it from controversy. He said a second daughter died after ingesting potassium chloride: "I covered up that this substance was widely used in … 'purification' programs."
He also alleges a parishioner "jumped to his death from a high-rise building" because he saw no way out of the enormous debts he owed the church.
Another former member says she was forced to do "hard labour" to redeem herself for supposed "crimes" against the church. This consisted of breaking and carting rocks to help build a road and car park at a church site in the Sydney suburb of Dundas. She describes not being able to speak until spoken to, having to address staff as "sir" and having to seek permission to contact her family.
Another describes how she was pressured to have an abortion, became embroiled in a cover-up over child abuse and was subjected to an intimidation campaign after leaving.
Another wrote: "We had one staff member who used a coat hanger and self-aborted her child for fear of being placed into the penal colony."
Senator Xenophon referred the allegations of criminal conduct to police.
But Scientology spokesman Cyrus Brooks said the church had never had complaints about that sort of behaviour.
He said claims the organisation had forced women into abortions were ''disgusting - it's just not true'' and denied potassium chloride had ever been used in purification rituals. "It's an outrageous abuse of parliamentary privilege from a senator who would not even meet with us several months ago."
Asked if the church would co-operate with any inquiry, Mr Brooks said it had "always been willing to co-operate with any authorities on any concerns".
Greens Leader Bob Brown backed an inquiry, but wanted it extended to the Exclusive Brethren and other groups. The Opposition said it would consider the terms of any inquiry.
Scientology was founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the early 1950s. In 1983, the Australian High Court ruled it was a religion.
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