Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Oscar-winning writer quits ‘hate-filled and bigoted’ Scientology

Paul Haggis with his wife Deborah Rennard at the Oscars
Paul Haggis with his wife Deborah Rennard at the Oscars

Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning film-maker, has resigned from the Church of Scientology in an explosive letter that damns the organisation's “hate-filled” and “bigoted” opposition to gay marriage.

Haggis, who wrote Crash, Million Dollar Baby and the last two James Bond films, also registered his anger at the organisation's controversial “disconnection” policy, complaining that his wife was forced to live estranged from her parents. His letter, sent to the Church's official spokesman Tommy Davis and leaked to the press, brings more bad publicity to the embattled organisation, which had sought to play down its fundraising efforts against same-sex unions.

Mr Haggis announced that he cannot “in good conscience be a member of an organisation where gay bashing (is) tolerated” and which has “allowed (its) name to be allied with the worst elements of the Christian right”.

The letter criticised Scientologists from San Diego for helping fund the campaign for Proposition 8, the ballot measure which last year outlawed same-sex unions in California. It told how Mr Haggis became concerned at the move, and persuaded Mr Davis to draw up a press release saying the Church had no policy to oppose gay marriage. That release was never made public.

“You promised action. Ten months passed. No action,” said Mr Haggis. “The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent.”

“Despite all the church's words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear.”

The loss of Mr Haggis will be keenly felt by an organisation that deeply covets celebrity members from within the film community such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who it sees as a crucial tool in efforts to recruit members.

The letter, which was first made public on the blog of Hollywood Reporter columnist Roger Friedman, also provides a revealing insight into the inner workings of a Church which has often been accused of exploiting vulnerable followers.

Mr Davis and other spokesmen have publicly long denied that the Church of Scientology has a policy of “disconnecting” members who break rules. But Mr Haggis claims that the parents of his wife, the actress Deborah Rennard, fell victim to that very practice.

“My wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents because of something absolutely trivial they supposedly did 25 years ago when they resigned from the church,” he wrote. “It caused her terrible personal pain. For a year-and-a-half (she) did not speak to her parents and they had limited access to their grandchild. It was a terrible time.”

The Church of Scientology has not responded to his letter, and did not return calls yesterday seeking a comment on any of its specific allegations.

The public loss of Mr Haggis comes at an awkward time for Scientology's public image. John Travolta and his wife, the actress Kelly Preston, were recently forced to deny reports that they were quitting the Church over its beliefs regarding psychology. The couple's teenage son Jett died earlier this year. His death was linked to his severe autism. However, Scientologists are not supposed to believe that autism exists.

The letter

‘You promised action.

As you know, for 10 months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego#8230; The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent...

I am now painfully aware that you might see this as an attack and just as easily use things I have confessed over the years to smear my name. Well, luckily I have never held myself up to be anyone's role model.

The great majority of Scientologists I know are good people who are genuinely interested in improving conditions on this planet and helping others.

I have to believe that if they knew what I now know, they too would be horrified.

But I know how easy it was for me to defend our organisation and dismiss our critics, without ever truly looking at what was being said; I did it for 35 years. And so, after writing this letter, I am fully aware that some of my friends may choose to no longer associate with me, or in some cases work with me. I will always take their calls, as I always took yours. However, I have finally come to the conclusion that I can no longer be a part of this group.’

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