PÁDRAIG COLLINS in Sydney
THE CHURCH of Scientology in Australia was last night defending itself from a scathing attack by a politician using parliamentary privilege.
In a senate speech late on Tuesday, independent south Australia senator Nick Xenophon said: “Scientology is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.”
Mr Xenophon questioned Scientology’s tax exemption status and called for it to be investigated by the police and parliament.
The senator tabled letters he received from former Scientology members detailing claims of abuse, false imprisonment, forced abortion, embezzlement and the covering up of children’s deaths.
“One of the saddest correspondences I have received – and they are all sad – is from Paul Schofield,” said Mr Xenophon.
Mr Schofield alleges the cover-up of child abuse by Scientology and admitted being part of a campaign to cover up the facts surrounding the deaths of two of his daughters. “Lauren, who was 14 months old, was being babysat at the organisation’s building in Sydney when she was allowed to wander the stairs by herself and fall. She died in hospital two days later,” said Mr Xenophon.
Mr Schofield said he felt pressured by Scientology executives not to request an inquiry, and was told if he sought compensation he and his wife would be ineligible for any church services. “His second daughter, Kirsty, who was 2½, died after ingesting potassium chloride – a substance used as part of a so-called ‘purification programme’ run by the organisation,” said Mr Xenophon.
Mr Schofield says he perjured himself to the police in the inquest to protect the church.
A letter from former Scientologist Aaron Saxton said he was involved in coercing female followers to have abortions.
He said this was part of a policy designed to keep followers loyal and to allow them to continue working for the organisation.
The Church of Scientology said Mr Xenophon’s allegations were an abuse of parliamentary privilege.
“If these people had key issues, then how come they haven’t contacted the church officially? . . . I think it’s a bit disingenuous that someone stands up in parliament, where they can say whatever they want,” said Scientology spokeswoman Virginia Stewart.
Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said Mr Xenophon’s speech contained “grave allegations”.
“I share some of those concerns but let us proceed carefully and look carefully at the material which he has provided before we make a decision on further parliamentary action,” he said.