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Scientology’s “Pope” Isn’t Resigning, But Some in the Church Want to Give Him a Push

This Photoshopped image of Scientology leader David Miscavige as Pope was created by the smart-asses over at Anonymous. We think it's blasphemous. Which is why it's so darn funny.

This Photoshopped image of Scientology leader David Miscavige as Pope was created by the smart-asses over at Anonymous. We think it’s blasphemous. Which is why it’s so darn funny.

The surprising news this morning is that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month, the first pope to walk away from the position since 1415.

When he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became pope in 2005, he expressed the opinion that popes of elderly age and failing health should step down rather than hold on to the title to the bitter end. So perhaps the frail 85-year-old is just taking his own advice. But there will be endless speculation about how much his decision was influenced by the Catholic Church’s ongoing controversy over pedophile priests — and Ratzinger’s involvement in the past to sweep away that growing scandal.

A religious leader stepping down as his church is mired in scandal: Well, we can’t help thinking of another church that finds itself gripped by several crises, and for which its members, past and present, have vocally blamed its leader for helping to create.

With Pope Benedict stepping down, we wondered, what would it take to depose Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige?

To answer that question, we’ll use this opportunity to describe a scene we hadn’t yet had the chance to write about. It took place in a restaurant in Los Angeles last November. We sat down to talk with two men who had taken enormous risks to meet with us. They were both longtime members of the Church of Scientology. They were not defectors. They were not “independents.” They were Scientologists, and they want their church back.

They claimed to be part of a growing faction inside the church that wants David Miscavige out as leader of Scientology. “Why should we leave, when he’s the one doing the damage?” one of the men said. They both claimed that they had surveyed as many members as they could in the LA area (which has a greater concentration of members than anywhere in the world), and believed that up to 80 percent of the people they talked to wanted Miscavige out, and were simply “going through the motions” in their involvement with church activities in the meantime.

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We had to assume that number was high, but the meeting itself was something we really couldn’t imagine happening just a few years earlier. And based on the reaction to Debbie Cook’s infamous New Year’s Eve e-mail last year — when a longtime, respected church member accused Miscavige of malfeasance in a message that was sent to thousands of members, resulting in more defections — it’s quite plain that Scientology is in the grips of a leadership crisis.

OK, so people are unhappy. What did these oldtimers expect to do about it? What followed was a detailed and arcane discussion about the complex founding documents behind Scientology’s three controlling entities, the Religious Technology Center (RTC), the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST), and the Church of Scientology International (CSI).

In the early 1980s, after going into seclusion in order to avoid government investigators, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard ordered that the church go through a complex restructuring. The result was this alphabet soup of entities which governs Scientology, supposedly with some checks and balances. But according to what former members say, including under oath, Miscavige today wields total control over every aspect of Scientology as chairman of the board of the RTC (which is why he’s often referred to by church members as “COB” or “COB of RTC”). Hubbard’s plan, however, appeared to be an attempt to share some responsibility between the different entities, and keep one man from following him as absolute ruler.

Miscavige was never meant to be Scientology’s pope, say those unhappy with him, and they pore over the founding documents of RTC, CST, and CSI, looking or a clue as to how Miscavige’s iron grip could be pried loose.

One person who knows those documents intimately is Denise Brennan, who helped create them. Now no longer in the church and an outspoken critic of Scientology, Brennan once published an essay on the Internet as a guide for how Miscavige could be deposed. In it, she explained that RTC, CST, and CSI have multiple boards of governance, and that although Miscavige chairs the RTC’s board of directors, he’s prevented from sitting on an even higher board of trustees for that organization. Convince the majority of that board of trustees to fire Miscavige, Brennan suggested, and he’d be gone.

The men we met in that Los Angeles restaurant told us that they have been trying to look into that possibility themselves. But they admitted that it can be extremely difficult just finding out who is on those shadowy boards that supposedly have the ability to depose Miscavige. They hold out hope that one person who could look into these documents, force the church to turn over information about membership on its boards, and even call for Miscavige’s leadership to be reviewed, is California’s Attorney General, who today is Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco DA.

America’s government officials, however, have been far less willing to investigate Scientology than their counterparts in places like Europe and Australia. Also, when we looked into those founding documents ourselves, guided by Denise Brennan’s essay, we found that one board which supposedly had power over Miscavige’s position at RTC appeared to include a church executive named Norman Starkey — a man who once captained L. Ron Hubbard’s flagship, the Apollo, and who, since about 2004, has reportedly spent some of those years as a virtual prisoner in Scientology’s concentration camp for top executives known as “The Hole.” It doesn’t seem likely that the members of The Hole are going to have much opportunity to vote Miscavige out of a job anytime soon.

But perhaps we’re just being cynical. We continue to hear from other active, current church members who also express the wish that Scientology find a way to carry on without David Miscavige. Frightened, isolated, and subject to the church’s highly refined methods of interrogation and control, they admit that it’s sometimes difficult to see Scientology making a change.

But on the other hand, millions of Catholics woke up this morning to news they never expected to hear in their lifetimes.

 
UPDATE: Another of our sources still inside the church sent us this message as a counterpoint…

I would say 80 percent is very high. I am in the thick of it and I am now adept at asking the right questions that tell me how far I can go with other church members. Most are oblivious and happy clams. I contact a lot of them on a weekly basis and have been present at events both large and small. I have found a handful of people who know the score but are keeping quiet. I do hear from my contacts specific gripes or annoyance about church activities but these are not enough to make any clam want to leave or oust COB.

And the current unspoken mindset of good little clams is: if you are not actively on training and auditing or both there is something wrong with you and you must be corrected and you are not trustworthy. This to a greater or lesser degree is across the boards. So to stay trusted I have to be doing something on a continuous basis. I do know that most of the middle class, upper level clams are sick of donating money. Many of them now donate their time instead. But I also see the rich clams still giving big on a regular basis. This is keeping the church alive. That plus the individual talents of dedicated clams who still contact, handle, salvage and bring to understanding new public. Or work actively to recover those who have fallen off the Bridge.

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STATEMENT IN NARCONON LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT

We broke the news Friday night that a settlement had been reached in the Desmond family wrongful death and civil racketeering lawsuit against Scientology’s drug rehab facility in the Atlanta area, Narconon Georgia. The lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial today, and documents produced over the last year in the case suggested that Scientology’s drug rehab network was about to undergo a painful recitation of its deceptive practices in open court. At the last minute, Narconon’s side forked over enough cash to make the case go away.

This morning, Pete Combs of WSB Radio is reporting on the settlement, and he received this interesting statement from Jeff Harris, attorney for the Desmond Family, whose son Patrick, a Marine veteran who had been a patient and employee of Narconon Georgia, died in 2008 after a heroin overdose…

On Friday, February 8, 2013, Desmond v. Narconon of Georgia / Narconon International was settled to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. However, our investigation into claims of insurance fraud, illegal housing operations and other potentially illegal activities committed by Narconon of Georgia is ongoing. Our firm represents a number of potential claimants who want to see the state revoke Narconon of Georgia’s license and shut themdown permanently. As long as Narconon of Georgia continues to operate, we will continue to vigorously investigate and bring additional claims.”

Expect more coverage from Jodie Fleischer at WSB-TV and Christian Boone at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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Posted by Tony Ortega on February 11, 2013 at 09:15

 

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