Church of Scientology's response: 'Character assassination' by liars

Published August 2 2009
Updated August 2 2009

This is the Church of Scientology's response to the St. Petersburg Times story that, in addition to the four church defectors the newspaper wrote about in June, quotes 11 more defectors who have provided accounts of physical or mental abuse by Scientology leader David Miscavige.

The Church of Scientology provided 25 affidavits and declarations from current and former church executives and staffers who uniformly describe David Miscavige as a kind, compassionate, inspiring leader who never has been violent or abusive, physically or mentally.

Yael Lustgarten's statement was typical. "In all the times I have worked with Mr. Miscavige or seen him working with others, I have never known him to be furious, mad, pissed off, much less hit, punch, kick, slap, choke, push, or inflict any form of abuse," wrote Lustgarten, who left the church staff in 2004 after 18 years. "I never witnessed that, ever."

Before the St. Petersburg Times published stories on the church in late June, two church spokesmen and two church lawyers spent 25 hours with reporters detailing Miscavige's achievements, heralding church expansion worldwide and attacking the credibility of the four former church executives who were sources for that series of reports.

For this story, the Times detailed its reporting July 22 in a two-page letter to chief church spokesman Tommy Davis. He responded with a binder of declarations and a cover letter that said: "Your sources are clearly liars and their fabrications will have no bounds so long as the St. Petersburg Times continues to report them as if they were news.''

The "true perpetrators of any violence,'' Davis wrote, were "your sources.''

Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, key figures in the earlier stories and the highest executives ever to leave the church's staff, repeatedly are described in the declarations as violent and threatening.

At least 11 declarations cite instances in which Rathbun was abusive. Former colleagues wrote that he grabbed, hit or slugged them, and pushed them against walls. Guillaume Lesevre said Rathun dragged him by the ear. David Henderson wrote that Rathbun tried to scare him into a confession by waving a baseball bat, then smashing it into a file cabinet.

Rathbun, who worked as Miscavige's right hand for years, said he doesn't remember Henderson's baseball bat incident, but he acknowledges that he hit, grabbed and pushed staffers. He said his actions stopped short of causing injury. "I never put a mark on anybody. … I'm willing to admit what I did. By admitting it, I'm trying to make reparations.''

In the declarations, three women said Rinder hit them. Former staffer Shelby Malone said Rinder slammed her against a wall and pinned her head back by pressing his right forearm into her neck. Kathleen O'Gorman said Rinder hit her in face with a clipboard, cracking a molar. Marcy McShane wrote that Rinder grabbed and squeezed her shoulders, told her she was "stupid'' and threw her into a wall.

Rinder, the chief church spokesman until he left in 2007, said he doesn't recall the incidents cited by Malone and O'Gorman but said he did grab McShane and shake and yell at her. "I acknowledge I did that. And I told her she was stupid," Rinder said. "I regret it … I feel bad about it."

Davis concluded his letter: "You have been provided volumes of evidence to show that your original sources are delusionary, bitter and dishonest; your new sources are more of the same.

"Any reliance on these fabricated tales will be further corroboration of the St. Petersburg Times' willingness to ignore fundamental rules of journalistic ethics in favor of more character assassination."

Scientology's MAGAZINE, Freedom, mailed to parishioners and non-Scientologists in recent days, devotes 40 pages decrying the St. Petersburg Times, and reporters Joe Childs and Tom Tobin. "Childs, Tobin and the S.P. Times truly have no scruples," the magazine states.

Calling the reporters "Merchants of Chaos,'' Freedom says Times sources are liars and spends pages objecting to the Times' decision to publish its three-part series in June without interviewing David Miscavige.

The Times first asked to interview him May 13. The first story published June 21; the Times offered to talk to him, in person or by phone, any time in between. The paper was told his schedule would not permit it.

“We stand by the stories,” said executive editor Neil Brown. “We remain interested in talking to Mr. Miscavige.”