Broadcast: Monday 8th March 2010 8.30pm
March 06, 2010
Source | Video
Reporter Quentin McDermott talks to men and women who were members of an elite unit inside the Church in Australia and the United States. They explain why they joined, how they worked tirelessly for Scientology, and how, in some cases, they were pressured, and pressured others, to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Church.
Some of them describe the separation from relatives that occurs when they were expelled from the Church. They also describe how they worked long hours, for little pay. Others claim they were pressured into having abortions, because of a policy that forbids the raising of children within the unit. Some of these men and women are now taking the church to court in the United States over claims involving this type of treatment. The Church is contesting the court actions.
The Church of Scientology was set up in the United States in 1953 by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It claims to have millions of followers worldwide. High profile supporters include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Scientologists believe in past and future lives, and in "clearing the planet" of evil influences.
"Man is basically good and the individual's a spiritual being, you've lived before and you'll live again, and your capabilities are infinite if not yet fully realised."
The Church says its influence around the world is growing. But it is also gathering powerful critics. In Australia Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has called for a parliamentary inquiry. In doing so he told the Senate:
"What we are seeing is a worldwide pattern of abuse and criminality. On the body of evidence this is not happening by accident; it is happening by design. Scientology is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs."
The Church of Scientology denied the charges and was given leave to respond in Hansard to Senator Xenophon's comments.
In Monday night's program, an early member of the Church's internal religious unit tells Four Corners that in her experience, members of the unit were treated "abominably" when they were punished. She claims that when Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard was in self-imposed exile on the high seas, captaining vessels crewed by his own elite band of followers, he ordered extreme forms of punishment to be meted out to anyone who broke the rules.
"People were thrown overboard, hands bound and feet bound and blindfolded. You know, women of 55 years old." (Note: later they were retrieved from the water alive.)
This culture of cruelty still seems to be a major feature of the organisation. Four Corners talks to former Scientologists who were consigned to a unit they regarded as a punishment camp - but which the church regards as a religious retreat.
"It's a slave camp, there's no question about it 'cause people are definitely abused."
A spokesman for the Church describes the unit quite differently:
"Members who burn out on their jobs or are failing or incapable of or not performing well in their functions, can be given the voluntary opportunity to have a period of reflection, rehabilitation, redemption."
Two young women told Four Corners how they were forced to clean out garbage skips with a small brush. The reason? Both were being disciplined for not doing their jobs properly. A Church spokesman has told the program he doesn't believe such claims:
"It sounds ridiculous and extreme. I question its credibility. I question its veracity."
Several women tell reporter Quentin McDermott of the anguish they suffered when superior officers pressured them into having abortions. The women claim they were told that having a child would interfere with the work they were doing for the Church.
"They sat down with me and prepared me… saying good, we're going to take you to the Planned Parenthood. They're going to ask you do you want an abortion, you're to say yes. I was going to be driven there by a staff member who would be waiting for me outside in the waiting room."
In the United States the Church is facing a range of allegations that are expected to be tested in court. Among them are claims by members of the Church that they were not paid adequately for long hours of work. Such claims are being contested by the Church.
As further details of these allegations come to light, Senators may be asked to consider whether the Church of Scientology deserves to retain its status as a religion and as a tax-free entity in Australia. The program will feature a senior member of the Church responding to the claims being made by former followers.
"Scientology: The Ex-Files" goes to air on Monday 8th March at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on Tuesday 9th March at 11.35pm. It is also available online.
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