Can we ever truly trust Scientology?
Daily Express, Wednesday September 18, 1996
[Front page, just below mast-head, 1-inch high letters] How Scientology almost turned my son into a zombie - Life pages 26-27 [picture of Heber Jentsch pointing his finger superimposed on a Scientology cross] [page 26:] [picture of Heber Jentsch pointing his finger towards the camera. A Scientology "trust" poster is in the background. caption: PREACHING AN EXPENSIVE MESSAGE: The Rev Heber C Jentzsch, the church's world president yesterday.] As it advertises on TV for the first time, Nic Fleming and Tobyn Andreas look at the church so many love to hate [picture of L Ron Hubbard. caption: "FOUNDER: Lafayette Ron Hubbard"] They may have stopped you in the street, you may have seen them in the Press, but as from today the members of the Church of Scientology can beam into your living room. For the first time in its 46-year history, the group has won approval to broadcast an advert on satellite television -despite being banned by all other European countries. The UKP70,000, 60-second ad will start on satellite/cable channels UK Gold and UK Living - received by five million homes - and may move on to ITV and Channel 4. It features smiling people in different national costumes repeating the word "trust". It ends: "On the day we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on Earth." The church's telephone number is then provided, with a background of uplifting music. The Rev Heber C Jentzsch, the church's world president, said at a Press conference yesterday: "All we are saying is that we have problems with drugs and sex and we want to change that for people." Scientology was created by science fiction writer Lafayette Ron Hubbard in 1954. Hubbard, who died 10 years ago at the age of 75, claimed man was a vessel for an immortal soul called a "Thetan". His religion involves recruits being plugged into an "E-meter", a lie detector-type device that measures changes in the skin while subjects discuss past traumas. It is these methods which have laid Scientology open to accusations of brain-washing, financial exploitation and forcing children to leave their families to join the sect. Hollywood stars John Travolta, Tom Cruise - their respective wives Kelly Preston and Nicole Kidman are also members - and Lisa Marie Presley, who had her marriage to Michael Jackson blessed by the church, say it has transformed their existence. Travolta has said "The one thing that has influenced my life the most is Scientology. It put me in better shape as a human being and, therefore, has affected all aspects of my life." Demi Moore and Sharon Stone are also said to be members. Yet thousands of families around the world claim Scientology has destroyed their lives, splitting children from parents and siblings and transforming personalities. Bitter ex-members estimate that the cost of the required books, tapes, videos and equipment, could easily come to more than UKP100,000 for the highest level. Courses are estimated to pull in UKP200 million a year; Hubbard is said to have told a colleague at a 1948 science fiction conference that the best way to make a fortune was to start a religion. However, a Scientology spokesman said yesterday: "Our courses start out at about UKP30. But any religious organisation depends on donations from their members. The advert is not to recruit people. It is all about promoting trust in a world where there are too many negative events happening. There are too many peopl trying to spread mistrust. "People who claim we split up families are in fact a small group who are often making money out of it. "Those who say we use brain-washing are either being ignorant or malicious. L Ron Hubbard was in fact the first person to expose the American government and the CIA's use of brain-washing ang they have never forgiven him. "These allegations of hypnosis and brain-washing have been going on for 20 to 30 years. But if they were true why do we keep getting bigger and bigger?" The organisation claims eight million members worldwide - 100,000 of whom are based at eight churches in Britain. In 1968, the movement became subject to a government exclusion order barring foreign Scientologists on the grounds its methods were a "serious danger to health". It was lifted in 1980. Here four people who have had dealings with the church tell their stories (some names and locations hvae been changed at the subjects' request). [pictures of John Phelan and his brother Tony. caption: STRANGERS: Yet John Phelan, above and his brother Tony, left, used to be very close]
THE BRAVE BROTHER WHO LOST HIS 'BEST FRIEND'
John Phelan was the only one of the people we spoke to who was brave enough to use his real name when talking about Scientology. He says that if he can save just one family from the grief he went through when his brother Tony became involved in the sect, then it is worth sacrificing his privacy. Like so many others, Tony became involved with Scientology at a time of huge personal grief. This was eight years ago. He had just moved to California when his beloved mother Nancy fell ill and died. Cut off from the emotional support of his tightly-knit Catholic family, he fell into the hands of the Scientologists. "It is as though he has been in prison ever since," says John. "He has disconnected himself from the family, though we'll keep trying to reach him until he comes to his senses. "Tony was my best mate. We shared a bedroom until I was 17 and went to college together. "Now he is like a stranger and he speaks like an automaton. "All his logic has gone and, when I saw him, it was as if he had suffered brain damage after a bad road accident." After undergoing a series of increasingly expensive courses in America, which John reckons may have cost as much as UKP30,000, Tony returned to Britain to study with the church full-time. Life outside the group became less and less important until he lost all his old friends. "I was worried that if I interfered, he would cut me off altogether," says John. "Now I wish I had acted sooner." As for the television campaign, the Phelans are appalled. Says John: "It gives the group a legitimacy that, in our opinion, it simply does not deserve."
THE MAN WHO LOST TWO MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY AND WAS THREATENED
[picture with face in silhouette, caption: TRAUMA: Jeremy Stevenson] Jeremy Stevenson, 35, has lost his 30-year-old brother Paul and sister Melissa, 39, to the Scientologists. His work to warn other families has been rewarded with intimidation and threats of legal action. "All three of us were deeply affected by my father's death from a heart attack 10 years ago," says Jeremy. "Its suddenness made it all the more traumatic. "Two years later, Melissa got mixed up with the Scientologists. She was recruited by the boss of the company sho works for, while on a business trip in France. "When I tried to warn her, she jsut got angry. "Melissa has handed over at least UKP40,000 in supposed course fees. "Her flat is being used by Scientologists and she has had to remortgage her house. "They use powerful and abusive therapy. "People are hypnotised by being stared at for hours on end. "They manipulate every aspect of family relationships. They have told her to stop contacting me." Four years ago, Melissa recruited her brother Paul, who was depressed about a broken relationship and unhappy in his job. "It was terrible because she used everything she knew about his past to manipulate him," says Jeremy. "They will never be able to get any help because they are taught that psychologists and therapists are bad."
THE MOTHER WHO LOST HER SON AND FOUND HERSELF DRAWN INTO THE SECT
Eileen Jacobs, 65, came into contact with Scientology through her son Henry, now 42. Little did she realise that she would lose her family and fortune in the process. "If I ever meet Ron Hubbard inthe after-life, I am going to boot him into the lowest depths of hell," says Eileen. "He took my money, my home and my son. He has ruined my life." Henry, a bright, outgoing boy with a post-graduate degree from Oxford University, moved to California after the death of his father Malcolm. While coming to terms with his grief, Henry joined the Scientologists 18 years ago. Henry returned to visit Eileen in Cumbria and encouraged her to attend a Scientology meeting. "I was so thrilled to see him that if he had told me the moon was made of cheese I would have believed him. Before I knew what was happening, I had been sucked in." Eileen began working for the group as a secretary, often tolling through the night for a 50 pence per week wage. Shocked by some of the things she witnessed, she decided to leave. "Henry was furious," she recalls. "He was the gentlest, most loving person in the world but when he is in Scientology mode he can be terrifying. It breaks my heart." The story doesn't end there. Eileen was sent a free plane ticket to visit Henry in California. Hoping for a reconciliation, she made the journey and he persuaded her to emigrate to America to live with him. She sold her house but when she returned to the States, Henry's tone was quite different. "He became hostile and said he didn't want me to live with him but in a Scientology commune. I realised then that the emigration ploy had all been a trick to ensnare me back into the church." Eileen refused and, after much difficulty, is now back in Britain. She estimates that she has spent UKP50,000 trying to get her life back on track. "It's devastating. I haven't spoken to Henry for nine months and I doubt I will ever see him again. "It makes me sick to think that this group is allowed to advertise on television. If young kids show even a spark of interest, they won't stand a chance."
HIGH-FLYING SON WHO CAME BACK FROM THE BRINK
Peter Jackson clearly remembers the anguish when his son Anthony entered the Scientology movement. "He went from beng happy and outgoing to a zombie in six months," says Peter. "He lost most of his friends, spent all his savings and virtually became a recluse." Anthony, who had a good job with a financial company in the West Country, was approached in the street by the cult and asked to take part in a personality test. Without telling his family he went to a meeting in Poole, Dorset, and signed on for several more courses. Before long he was spending every weekend there. "He became very aggressive and had a strange, blank, expression," says Peter. "We would row constantly. He was no longer the son we had raised and loved." It was only when Peter discovered that his son had spent all his childhood savings and taken out a UKP3,000 loan that he decided to consult a cults advisory organisation. An adviser, a former Scientologist, presented reams of evidence to Anthony highlighting the negative tactics of the church. Still uncertain, Anthony insisted that they all went to Saint Hill Manor just outside East Grinstead, British base of Scientology, to witness its activities. "You wouldn't believe some of the things we saw," recalls Peter. "The centre was built like a castle. Young kinds with dreamy expressions were wandering around or asleep on the floor. It was quite horrific." Anthony, who is in his twenties, was shocked to his senses and vowed never to contact the organisation again. "He is looking healthier and is happier than I have seen him in ages. I keep thinking how close I came to losing my only son," says Peter.