The St. Petersburg Times' June 24 editorial The abuse behind Scientology's facade proves beyond doubt that any aura of objectivity in the Times' so-called "special report" was illusory. The report attempted to give the appearance of balance by quoting statements from Church of Scientology representatives, but the editorial exposes this exercise as a hollow pretense.
The editorial uncritically accepts as true statements from a handful of former church staff without ever addressing their lack of credibility, their underlying motivations and the voluminous evidence proving their stories were false. These individuals lost their positions of authority within the church for incompetence and for serious misconduct. Your sources' statements to the Times plainly targeted the man who removed them, David Miscavige.
Times readers should be aware that Miscavige had agreed and made arrangements to be interviewed in Clearwater by the Times in early July. The Times' rush to press without hearing from Miscavige, much less the dozen other church executives who traveled to Clearwater last week to talk to the reporters, amply shows that the editors already had their minds made up.
The paper and its editorial staff have single-mindedly pursued a vendetta against the church from the moment it arrived in Clearwater more than 30 years ago. Since 1993, the Times has railed against the church's tax exemption rulings from the IRS without ever once giving serious attention to the voluminous public record upon which those rulings were based. The Times takes every opportunity to dredge up past false allegations from their own archives. And now, absent anything tangible and relevant, the Times has launched a scurrilous attack on the character of the church's leader, David Miscavige.
Finding none of the usual avenues of attack viable — no alcohol or drug issues, no financial misdeeds, no sex scandals — the Times has seized on tired, old allegations from the "grassy knoll" of the Internet to falsely portray Miscavige, a beloved, albeit demanding religious leader, in a manner that is completely contrary to his true personality. This caricature is belied by the respect and admiration he has earned from millions of Scientologists who have witnessed a renaissance in the church and unprecedented growth and expansion under Miscavige's stewardship.
In the end, the "special report" and its culmination in the editorial say far more about the Times than they do about the church. A more accurate title would be "The bigotry behind the Times' facade of responsible journalism."
Pat Harney, public affairs director, Church of Scientology, Flag Service Organization, Clearwater
If you want to know the character of a man, don't ask his ex-wife. The "truth" given by the ex-Scientologists is highly suspect. My daughter has worked in David Miscavige's personal office for 25 years and is a warm, caring and very competent individual and has nothing but good to say about him.
I have been a Scientologist since 1973 and have seen the tremendous growth of our drug education, literacy and other social betterment programs under Miscavige's guidance and leadership. Why don't you interview people whose lives have been salvaged by L. Ron Hubbard's programs rather than losers who get booted out of their own religion?
Lynn Irons, executive director of the Church of Scientology of Tampa, Clearwater
As someone who has been here since the beginning when Scientologists purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel and infiltrated downtown Clearwater, it is good to know that others are aware of what has really taken place here.
With this in-depth report, Clearwater residents who were not here from the beginning of the Scientology takeover in Clearwater can now better understand what has happened down through the years to bring our downtown and surrounding core to where is it now. In fact, I am even hoping some of the Scientologists themselves will wake up to what they have gotten raveled up in and make the choice to leave.
Maryce Garber, Clearwater
Story has another side
You have published about 16 pages, over several days, vilifying the Church of Scientology. There is hardly any space devoted to the other side of the story. What kind of journalism is this? You promote a handful of unhappy people who have left the church. But what about the hundreds of thousands of happy and satisfied Scientologists all around the world? Right here in Tampa Bay there are about 10,000 Scientologists who would be glad to tell you how Scientology has saved their lives, helped them become happy, sane, ethical, productive people. Why are none of them interviewed? And why was David Miscavige not interviewed?
What about the huge amount of good the church is doing, in its constant fight against drug abuse, crime, illiteracy? What about the hundreds of volunteer Scientology ministers who are constantly traveling the globe, helping victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorism, etc.?
Rebecca Sjouwerman, Belleair
Not very churchlike
Scientology's preoccupation with power, money, deception, burglary, intimidation, abuse, spying and beatings reads more like a chapter out of The Godfather than the core principles of a "church." How interesting that its anointed leader David Miscavige doesn't even have a high school education. And he's running this huge, international, multimillion dollar enterprise people give their life savings to? What chutzpah!
You've got to hand it to L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of this dangerous cult, for his uncanny ability to turn an unbelievably successful career of science fiction writing into a huge, moneymaking "religion."
Steve Feldman, Valrico
A disservice to good people
It's hard to believe, but once again you have written a biased article against Scientology, trying to make good people who do their best to help others look bad. If you want to find something to be critical of, try looking in the mirror. A Times expose on the Times. Now that would be interesting reading!
Ron Pollack, Vail, Colo.
Like a political machine
Anyone with any intelligence and the ability to reason knows Scientology isn't a religion. Exactly what it is isn't clear. Some say it's a cult, whatever the case may be.
I moved to Clearwater in 1975, just about the same time the Fort Harrison hotel was purchased. I remember the mayor, Gabe Cazares, went up against them saying they were anything but a church and needed to pay taxes. They promptly made him sorry.
They seem to be structured along the lines of a political machine with their own army of lieutenants who "take care of" what needs doing. They have drones all around the world who are isolated from real life whose sole purpose is to keep the cash flowing. Aside from a few celebrities, they seem to be filled with robotic shells of human beings.
Daniel Orsello, Tampa
I have been a member of the Church of Scientology for 25 years. I have lived in the Clearwater area for 23 years. In that time I have seen the St. Petersburg Times repeatedly write slanderous, inaccurate stories about the church and its members. I naively thought your paper had finally moved past its illogical crusade. Now you take four ex-employees of the church, all of whom where fired from their jobs, and print in the paper their wild accusations as fact.
As a businessman who has had to fire employees on occasion, I have experienced firsthand wild, untrue stories being told by disgruntled ex-employees. I can only imagine what they would have said if they got the chance to get it printed in the paper.
Jerry Dyas, Clearwater
As a native of Clearwater, I have always been heartbroken at the demise of the downtown as Scientology commandeered the area and the voices of critics were silenced by the heavy-handed tactics of this well-funded, dangerous organization.
I was once told by a Scientologist that when people criticize Scientology, "They just don't understand." Well, I do understand. As a teenager working at a small store frequented by Scientologists on U.S. 19 in the 1980s, I witnessed disturbing behavior among adult Scientologists and even more disturbing behavior among the children. This is not a harmless "religion," despite the best efforts of its celebrity spokesmodels to paint it as such.
Excellent work, Times.
Debra Mixon, Homosassa
I cannot believe the amount of space you have devoted to the subject of Scientology. One of the interesting things is that there isn't any news in any of the articles. Let's see: Some people were members of the church — devout members — and now they aren't and they want to share their story and try to malign the church and its executives. Nothing new.
You do this every few years and the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds throughout the world. You still fail to see the good that the church and its parishioners do all over the world.
Once again, you miss the boat and it is obvious to everyone that you are just trying to play out your own agenda against the church.
Joanie Sigal, Clearwater
Thank you for your excellent, thorough expose of Scientology. It makes for absorbing reading and, appalling as the Lisa McPherson pictures are, one sees evidence of careful research and the professional restraint from any sensationalism.
Religion, cult, whatever one calls it, this description — its history and its astonishing growth and power — is a remarkable case history of the power of man's imagination and his infinite cunning. For here is a vivid picture of what happens when men and women deliberately turn away from reason. Here we see the scope of human gullibility and of human greed.
Scientology's goal is "to create a world without war, insanity and criminality." It opposes itself to psychiatry, whose goals are dismally opposite, seeking to make men and women "drugged or robotized" so they can be controlled. The result is vividly presented in the St. Petersburg Times account.
Lisa McPherson, terribly ill, was certainly "drugged and robotized" and deprived of proper care. Stripped of her money to pay for what care the organization gives her, and for any education in its tenets, she stands as a tragic symbol of what a determined, irrational, emotional movement can do to human beings.
Abigail Ann Martin, Brandon
Thank you for the three huge articles on Scientology. Now, they were full of lies and half truths and very falsely portrayed the most vital and growing religion of the 21st century. But then this is the planet where they killed the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
I am a Scientologist, a very active and dedicated Scientologist. Why would I thank you, then? Hey, at least you'll get people interested in the subject and when they look for themselves they will find out, very definitely, what Scientology is.
I'm very glad to be a Scientologist. I have definitely been able to improve my life and help others using the technology and philosophy that L. Ron Hubbard wrote.
Doyle Mills, Clearwater
Same old cult
I thoroughly appreciate the St. Petersburg Times for getting the truth out about Scientology. I was afraid that the community was becoming complacent about the cult when I knew, through personal experience and research, that they had not changed. In fact they may have become even more dangerous.
If they are that abusive to their own people who have served many years, what do they care about new victims? The newest victims, and others too, are only sources of income.
The former members of the cult deserve much praise for speaking out. It takes a lot of nerve to stand up to the cult. These interviews will have helped many in the cult and those who may have been considering joining.
David Rodman, Dunedin
What a tangled mess
Writers Thomas Tobin and Joe Childs did an excellent job of investigating and reporting the behind-the-scenes story of Scientology. Still to be answered is who is lying and who is telling the truth, the current or former members of this giant cuckoo nest.
John Ennis, Hudson