The Church of Scientology is naturally very excited that Alessandro Calcioli and Louisa Hodkin (pictured right) will marry today after winning a landmark court victory allowing Scientology “religious” weddings to be held in England for the first time.
Scientology may be dwindling, but it can use every bit of good publicity it can get, so today’s wedding will be streamed live on the Internet at 11 am Eastern, and we wouldn’t miss it.
But coverage of the impending nuptials has been uninformed and even embarrassing. Despite decades of revelations in books, magazine articles, and newspaper stories that have laid bare most of Scientology’s secrets, the church still seems to be something of a mystery for most reporters and many in the public.
So we’re here to help with a few things to look for today as you watch “Ale” and Louisa tie the knot — or circle the triangle, as it were.
1. Will Uncle Neil be there?
Ale Calcioli is from the most famous Scientology family in the UK. His grandfather, David Gaiman, was for decades the face of Scientology in England and its top public relations man. Gaiman died in 2009 at 75, leaving behind three children — his two daughters are still fanatical Scientology believers. One of them is Lizzy Calcioli, Ale’s mother.
David Gaiman’s son and Lizzy’s brother is Neil Gaiman, one of the most successful fantasy and science fiction writers in the world. In interviews, Neil says that he is no longer a Scientologist, but he reportedly did reach the upper levels of arcane knowledge in the church before leaving it some time in the 1980s.
Neil Gaiman is careful not to say anything negative about Scientology in interviews, and it’s not hard to understand why. If he criticized Scientology at all it would be major news, and in Scientology that’s about the worst thing you can do is bring bad publicity on the church. If Neil did that, the rest of his family would immediately be ordered to “disconnect” from him. And given some of the nice things he said about Lizzy in the afterword to his most recent book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he still cares about those relationships.
But does that mean he’ll be at his nephew’s wedding today? We’re curious to find out.
2. How this wedding would make granddad proud
While he was alive, Ale’s grandfather David Gaiman was known as a pugnacious promoter of Scientology. He was also named an unindicted co-conspirator (along with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard himself) when 11 Scientology executives were prosecuted for the largest infiltration of the US government in its history.
David Gaiman was a member of Scientology’s “Guardian’s Office,” its notorious spy wing that was founded in 1966 as Hubbard was finding himself unwelcome in an increasing number of countries around the world.
From 1973 until the church was raided by the FBI in 1977, the Guardian’s Office sent operatives to infiltrate hundreds of government offices around the world to pilfer files about the church. They called the operation the “Snow White Program,” and it resulted in the theft of tens of thousands of government documents.
Gaiman rose to be the Guardian’s Office’s top public relations official in the world. His own contribution to the GO’s many plots was dreaming up “Operation Cat,” a scheme to plant false information in the files of US government agencies and then expose it using Freedom of Information Act requests. Gaiman’s plans for Operation Cat were among the documents seized in the 1977 raid.
David and his wife Sheila also had a very good thing going after they founded a vitamin supply business, G & G Vitamins, in 1965. It became a lucrative concern as it supplied Saint Hill Manor, Hubbard’s old estate and the headquarters of Scientology in England, where some of Scientology’s processes call for huge intakes of vitamins. (Last year, Sheila Gaiman was featured in a Scientology flier which listed her as a “New Civilization Founder” in its fundraising for new buildings, indicating that she’s personally given at least $1 million.)
But David Gaiman’s career in the church did not go without a hitch. In the early 1980s, there was a purge of old Guardian’s Office executives as Scientology tried to distance itself from the disastrous prosecution of officials involved in Snow White.
In 1983, David was expelled from the church and “declared” a “suppressive person” — Scientology’s form of excommunication. His declare is online, and it not only lists the usual complaints — that Gaiman supplanted Hubbard’s methods with his own, making him a “squirrel” (a heretic) — but also accused him of “a history of sexual misconduct…He has engaged in this while legally married in disregard of Church policy on this matter.”
Gaiman later managed to get back in the church’s good graces, and remained a staunch defender of Scientology to the end of his life. No doubt he would be beaming to see how his grandson is bringing some badly needed good publicity to Scientology today.
3. Why did it take a court decision for this wedding to happen?
The court battle that Ale and Louisa went through to get here would never have happened in the United States. Here, we have a thing called the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents the government from establishing a state religion or in any other way regulating how religions operate internally.
If you’re a Buddhist or a Baptist or a Wiccan or a Scientologist, you can marry however you like here, in whatever venue you choose, as long as you follow some nominal procedures to register the marriage with the state.
England’s outdated marriage laws allowed “religious” weddings only in a few different kinds of venues that the government had designated as “houses of worship.” (In recent decades, England had loosened up its rules about where “non-religious” weddings could take place.) In 1970, when Scientology tried to challenge the law, it was determined that Scientologists do not, strictly speaking, “worship” a deity at their “orgs,” and so they were denied the right to be on the list of approved religious venues.
And actually, that assessment was correct. Although Scientology puts on a “Sunday service” purely for public relations reasons, the practice of Scientology itself is nothing like the group worship that takes place in a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue. Scientology is about sitting down with one other person to go through a kind of counseling — called “auditing” — that enables a subject to go millions or billions of years into his or her past lives to find “upsets” that are causing problems in the present time.
Sure, it’s weird, and it clearly isn’t “worship” — but so what? England’s law was presumptuous and stupid. And woefully out of date. Even though Scientologists believe that alien armies are running Venus and Mars, where our souls get “implanted” between lives (and they do believe that), who is the state to tell them they can’t have a wedding in a church?
Scientology, using Calcioli and Hodkin, saw an opportunity and took it, filing a challenge to the law with the help of Louisa’s father, Peter Hodkin, a prominent attorney who has fought for other Scientology causes.
England’s highest court made the right decision — Scientologists should have the right to be married in their own “orgs.” And with the victory, the church is trying to make the most of it, and will now press for other benefits, such as tax exemptions. That’s not going to be as easy to obtain, however, since in England an organization has to show a “public benefit” in order to get exemptions, a hurdle they don’t face in the US, where Scientology has enjoyed tax exempt status since 1993.
One thing’s for certain, however — a well-publicized court victory is really not enough on its own to change Scientology’s fortunes. Which brings us to the next point.
4. Scientology has never been in worse shape
The 2011 census in England and Wales revealed that only 2,418 people considered themselves Scientologists — even though the church itself claims more than 100,000 adherents in the country.
Scientologists were vastly outnumbered by Rastafarians (7,906) and Zoroastrians (4,105).
The number revealed by the census was particularly shocking because England is supposed to be one of Scientology’s strongholds.
In fact, the church has never had the kind of numbers that it claims. Former top-level executives who had access to actual enrollment documents say that at its height in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scientology approached about 100,000 people worldwide and has been steadily decreasing since then. And an exodus of longtime members in the last decade has those same former executives estimating today’s planet-wide enrollment at only about 25,000 to 30,000 people.
Scientology is tiny.
Of course, the church itself has always claimed that it has millions of members. (In 1969, it claimed to have 15 million members, and in the years since regularly claimed to have anywhere from six to 12 million. In the last few years, spokeswoman Karin Pouw has been more careful, claiming “millions” of followers.)
The truth is, Scientology has never been in bigger trouble. Dissatisfaction with leader David Miscavige has motivated the exodus, leading to a series of troubling defections, not only of former high-level officials, but also of Scientology’s special niche audience — celebrities.
Director Paul Haggis left the church after 30 years after getting fed up with Scientology’s well-earned reputation for homophobia (he has two adult lesbian daughters). And last summer, actress Leah Remini walked away from the church after being a member since she was a young child. Scientology also lost Katie Holmes, as she split from Tom Cruise, still the church’s most famous celebrity member. And ever since that break-up, the world’s media has been on a feeding frenzy about Scientology’s problems, including the vanishing of David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, who hasn’t been seen in public since 2007.
David Miscavige has pushed back with an aggressive building program, putting his followers under intense pressure to raise huge amounts of money in order to purchase historic buildings and turn them into gleaming new cathedrals. But there’s no evidence that the new “Ideal Orgs” are bringing in new converts, and plenty of anecdotal evidence that the buildings are failing to bring in anyone at all.
At the same time, Scientology is spending huge amounts of money to fight lawsuits — lawsuits that have pried loose documents showing that Scientology is still spying on former members like they were in David Gaiman’s day. One court fight has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court, where Scientology tried in vain to keep documents secret that bolster the accounts of women who say they were forced to have abortions as members of the church’s “Sea Org.” Another threatens to entangle Miscavige himself in a case of Scientology surveillance and alleged harassment. Another came and went as two of Scientology’s professional spies came forward with astounding stories of what lengths Miscavige would go to in order to keep an eye on a perceived enemy. Meanwhile, Scientology’s drug rehab network, Narconon, is mired in investigations and lawsuits around the country, many of them the result of unexplained patient deaths.
Around the world, Scientology is facing crises both inside and out. It could use a nice wedding to forget all of that, at least for a day.
5. What is the Scientology wedding ceremony?
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is revered by his followers as a larger-than-life figure. They consider him to be a great writer, among other things, but you won’t find a lot of fans of his prose outside the church.
Is the wedding ceremony he wrote a thing of poetry? We’ll let you decide.
Friends: We are gathered here in the presence of these witnesses for the purpose of legally joining in marriage this man and this woman, Louisa Hodkin and Alessandro Calcioli.
If there be any among you who know of any reason why this should not be done, let them now speak, or forever remain silent.
All being in accord, we shall proceed.
Ale, is your reality of the love you have for Louisa such as you will be constantly creating through health and sickness; through adversity as well as good fortune?
Can you confront and grant forgiveness for shortcomings as readily as you give praise for all her many admirable qualities?
And have you communicated your love to Louisa?
Louisa, have you acknowledged Ale’s love?
Louisa, is your reality of the love you have for Ale such as you will be constantly creating through health and sickness; through adversity as well as good fortune?
Can you confront and grant forgiveness for shortcomings as readily as you give praise for all his many sterling qualities?
And have you communicated your love to Ale?
Ale, have you acknowledged Louisa’s love?
Then may I say to you both that through your love together with your agreement upon its reality, and by your communication of these two beautiful truths, you have completed the ARC Triangle, and thereby consummated the only true marriage, which is beyond the power of any individual or group of individuals to add to or detract from in the slightest manner.
However, the law and custom of our society requires that this union shall be made a matter of public acclaim and record.
It is my honor to have been selected by you to perform the ceremony. The acceptance of an honor carries with it an obligation of comparable magnitude, and I would be remiss in that responsibility if I failed to attempt a contribution, not to what you have already created, which no one can do, but to the permanency of its continued creation on your future time track.
Man has ever employed symbols to impress upon the mind, wise and important truths, that these symbols might prove an ever-present reminder of the necessity of ceaseless creation of our desires.
And I am certain that your one joint desire in present time is that the love you have created shall remain a reality throughout your future years.
Best man, have you a ring?
May I have it please?
Bridesmaid, have you a ring?
May I have it please?
These rings consist of circles, and the circle has been an emblem of permanency to Man since time immemorial. In fact, it represents time and space — which are without ending. I want you to look upon these two emblems and mock-up the ARC Triangle in the center of each.
Have you done it?
As long as these emblems remain with you, I want you to see that triangle in their center as a reminder that the reality of their symbolism of permanency will hold true only so long as that triangle remains unbroken. I should like to see you make a pact between you that you will never close your eyes in sleep on a broken triangle. Heal any breach with the reality of your love through communication. If you will do this, these emblems of your greatest desire in present time will remain a reality throughout your future time track.
Let us proceed.
Ale, will you take this ring and with these words, place it upon Louisa’s finger.
“With this symbol of my love”
“I take thee, Louisa,”
“As my true and lawful wedded wife”
“I pledge thee to keep this love”
“Ever living, ever real.”
Louisa, will you take this ring and with these words, place it upon Ale’s finger.
“With this symbol of my love”
“I take thee, Ale,”
“As my true and lawful wedded husband”
“I pledge thee to keep this love”
“Ever living, ever real.”
And now, in the name of the Church of Scientology and by virtue of the powers vested in me by the state, I declare you, Ale, and you, Louisa, to be truly and legally, husband and wife. I will ask that you seal this ceremony with your lips. And I will ask these witnesses present to join me in blessing this ceremon with the postulate that the trust and love of the present shall become ever stronger with each passing year.
Did you do it?
— L. Ron Hubbard
So now you have a more complete program to today’s festivities than what the British press has supplied so far. Enjoy the nuptials. We’ll be watching.
UPDATE: The couple just posted this photo online, and apparently the video of their wedding will not be live, but will be uploaded soon.
Posted by Tony Ortega on February 23, 2014 at 10:45
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UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41
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