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Been there, done that: Scientology

The Times, Tuesday February 13, 2001


'When Andrew's personality changed I was alert to it'

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, who belong to the Scientologists, are divorcing. Reports have suggested that the break-up of their marriage may have occurred because of the growing religious chasm between them; that they disagreed over the extent to which Scientology should govern their family. Scientology was refused the status of a religion in Britain by the Charity Commissioners, which decided that it did not benefit the public.

In July 1984, Judge Latey, giving judgment in open court after a private hearing, described the cult in the High Court as "corrupt" and "both immoral and socially obnoxious". Judge Latey ordered a Scientologist father to hand over his ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter to their mother, who had fought for almost six years to be reunited with them after she broke away from the cult.

My son Andrew, who is studying for his PhD, joined the Scientologists when he was 21. He was walking along Tottenham Court Road when he was handed a questionnaire labelled the Oxford Capacity Analysis. This has nothing to do with Oxford University--I believe Scientologists use the word "Oxford" to give it credence. I think the questionnaire was a ploy to find his weaknesses. He was violently bullied at school and had hang-ups about it. After filling in the form he went to a lecture. He told us that he had met some lovely people who liked him.

The following week he saw the same group of people three times. As a mother you get a gut feeling. I knew this was not quite right. I thought his new friends sounded odd. Ours is a close-knit family, so when Andrew’s personality changed I was alert to it immediately. He became bad-tempered, which was not like him. He began to question our middle-class values. I talked over my fears with my husband, but he told me not to worry. He suggested that I was being over-protective and said it was good that Andrew had found a group of people to whom he could relate.

When Andrew told me that "they" had invited him to their headquarters at East Grinstead, West Sussex, I became more suspicious. "Who are they? What do you talk about?" I asked him. He would not answer. I found a book in his room by L. Ron Hubbard that was total mumbojumbo. That is when it suddenly hit me: Andrew was seeing people from the Scientologists. Apparently he was late arriving at East Grinstead and "they" phoned us eight times to check he was going. I did something I’m not happy to admit, but it confirmed our worst fears. Andrew was planning to go to New Zealand for four months and had saved £1,500. I went through his papers and discovered receipts from the Scientologists for £1,200.

I am a counsellor working for a children's charity, so I enlisted its help. The people there advised us to keep calm, to tell Andrew we loved him and trusted him, but that he owed it to us to tell us more about the people he was seeing.

When Andrew came home he looked strange and was aggressive. He told us he was leaving his job as a trainee pharmacist and was going to live with the Scientologists. He seemed to be slipping in and out of the cult personality he had adopted. I felt we were losing him. We went through our rehearsed speech and he listened, but when I admitted knowing that he had given them money he again became belligerent.

We were prepared to do anything to keep him away from those people and eventually tracked down a counsellor who had been a Scientologist for 12 years before leaving the cult. He agreed to talk to Andrew and they sat in a restaurant together for four hours while my husband and I worried and wandered about.

It worked. Andrew was convinced that he had been foolish. The Scientologists bombarded him with phone calls and letters for ten days. The pressure was a nightmare, but it was wonderful to hear Andrew tell them to "get out of my life".

If, as reports claim, Kidman has split from Cruise because she cannot accept the way Scientologists say children must be raised, then I think she has reached the only conclusion a mother could.

All names have been changed to protect Andrew's identity. Anti-cult helpline--Escape: 01342 316129.

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