Holy Xenu! Paul Haggis Renounces, Secret-Spills on Scientology

Oscar-winning director publicly splits with church over Prop 8 and orders to break contact with family

By Gina Serpe Oct 26, 2009 2:30 PMTags
Paul HaggisAP Photo/ Jennifer Graylock

Let's cut right to the chase: Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale) has publicly, blisteringly, bridge-burningly split from the Church of Scientology after 35 quiet years as a member.

True, he was nowhere near the religion's most famous celebrity practitioner, but he will no doubt now go down as one of its most infamous, thanks to the inevitably viral publication of his resignation letter, addressed to Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis. (The letter was first published on the blog of renounced Scientologist Marty Rathbun, who confirmed its authenticity.)

In the missive, Haggis details the reasons for his split, which can be chalked up to three irreconcilable impasses with the church: its refusal to speak out or stop one of its chapters from supporting California's gay-marriage-banning Proposition 8, thereby, in Haggis' eyes, promoting "bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear"; Davis' public betrayal and smear campaign against former members of the organization; and, what seemed to be the final straw, the church ordering Haggis' wife, who was introduced to Scientology through her parents, to "disconnect" from them.

And yes, that's exactly what it sounds like: Haggis' wife was told to cut off all contact with her parents due to something "absolutely trivial" they supposedly did 25 years ago.

The order, which Haggis personally opted not to obey ("I've never been good at following orders, especially when I find them morally reprehensible"), was made all the more hypocritical by what Davis did next.

Namely, wholly denying the policy during an interview with CNN.

"You said straight-out there was no such policy, that it did not exist," Haggis wrote. "I was shocked. We all know this policy exists. I didn't have to search for verification—I didn't have to look any further than my own home."

The order was made all the more baffling by the fact that the parents in question "never said a negative word about Scientology...hardly raving maniacs or enemies of the church."

"That's not ancient history, Tommy. It was a year ago. And you could laugh at the question as if it was a joke? You could publicly state that it doesn't exist? To see you lie so easily, I am afraid I had to ask myself: what else are you lying about?"

Turns out, at least two other things.

The first was the church's involvement in a campaign against Prop 8, which successfully overturned gay marriage in California.

Haggis said he has tried for 10 months to get Davis to denounce the San Diego chapter of the church's public sponsorship of the "hate-filled legislation."

"I told you I could not, in good conscience, be a member of an organization where gay-bashing was tolerated."

Haggis said that Davis promised him in October 2008 that he was as horrified at the political alignment as the director, and that "heads would roll." Cut to one year later and no action, no condemning press release, no public statement of any kind has been made.

"The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent.

"You had allowed our name to be allied with the worst elements of the Christian Right...Despite all the church's words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear."

Haggis' final lightbulb moment came courtesy of the reaction of the church in general and Davis in particular to a series of investigative pieces on Scientology published in the St. Petersburg Times.

The articles included accusations made against the organization by former top-ranking officials within the church, including its erstwhile spokesman of 20 years, Mike Rinder.

"Tommy, if only a fraction of these accusations are true, we are talking about serious, indefensible human and civil rights violations," he wrote. "It is still hard for me to believe. But given how many former top-level executives have said these things are true, it is hard to believe it is all lies."

Even harder for Haggis to believe: Davis' response.

In his defense of the church, Davis threw caution and credibility to the wind, per Haggis, splashing in both the mainstream press and the organization's own newsletter personal details on the executives that had been divulged in confidence during sessions with the church.

"I was truly disturbed to see you provide private details from confessionals to the press in an attempt to embarrass and discredit the executives who spoke out.

"A priest would go to jail before revealing secrets from the confessional, no matter what the cost to himself or his church. That the kind of integrity I thought we had, but obviously the standard in this church is far lower—the public relations representative can reveal secrets to the press if the management feels justified."

As for whether or not such secrets on Haggis will now spill forth, the director said he is "painfully aware" that may be the case. "Luckily, I have never held myself up to be anyone's role model."

He also said that while "the great majority" of Scientologists he knows are genuinely good people, some may choose to no longer associate or even work with him (indeed, his IMDb page can likely kiss goodbye any joint credits with Tom Cruise or John Travolta), but that it is a decision he had to make.

"I have finally come to the conclusion that I can no longer be a part of this group. Frankly, I had to look no further than your refusal to denounce the church's anti-gay stance, and the indefensible actions, and inactions, of those who condone this behavior within the organization. I am only ashamed that I waited this many months to act.

"I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology."


Add Paul Haggis to the rather short list of celebs who have actually managed to leave Scientology and maintain a thriving career. (Don't tell L. Ron!)