SPECIAL REPORT: CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
LAST OF FOUR PARTS [Part 1]
Family members who question Scientology have found loved ones severing all contact
Two years ago, Tanya Durni received a letter from her brother.
But it wasn’t a friendly note. In the letter, Fred Lennox told his sister that he was “disconnecting” completely from her.
Criticizing Scientology – especially on an Internet news group.
The letter jolted Durni, a golf shop manager at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester.
“It was like someone writing to say my brother was dead,” she said.
But what happened to Durni that day wasn’t unusual.
Family members and friends of Scientologists – including parents, spouses and children – who are critical of the church can be declared “suppressive.” That means the church sees them as intent on harming or destroying Scientology.
Under strict directives set by Scientology’s late founder, L. Ron Hubbard, church members must persuade them to check their criticism – or sever all contact.
Critics say they have witnessed that scenario happen repeatedly with Scientology.
“(The policy) is very destructive to family relationships – it’s like an iron door that keeps people from any kind of dialogue,” said the Rev. Robert W. Thornburg, dean emeritus of Marsh Chapel at Boston University and an expert on destructive religious practices.
“Scientology’s biggest threat – how they get control of you – is that you will be labeled a “suppressive person,’ ” said Rich Dunning of Niagara Falls, who was deputy executive director of the Buffalo church from October 2001 to May 2003.
Because Hubbard wrote that suppressive people inhibit spiritual growth, their influence with Scientologists must be minimized or removed entirely.
Joseph Sgroi, a Buffalo church member and its largest benefactor, said the practice of cutting off families is a last resort, undertaken only when someone remains hostile to the religion.
If a family member has “an incredibly negative effect” and refuses to change, he said, “it might make sense to not deal with that person.”
“The concept isn’t to destroy families, but to put families together,” he added.
Al Buttnor, the church’s Canadian spokesman, said Scientologists highly value marriage, raising children and families.
Durni was not alone among her family in being accused of spreading anti-Scientology views by the Buffalo church.
The church accused Fred Lennox’s older brother, Jeff Lennox, of spreading “black propaganda” because he told Fred the Church of Scientology was a cult.
“They sent Fred a letter with a threatening bent, saying I had said things untrue about Scientology,” Jeff Lennox said.
Ultimately, Fred Lennox was told by the church to face its Board of Investigations. He also was told to undergo a “security check.” That’s a practice in which Scientologists can be interrogated about moral transgressions with the use of a lie detector-like device called an E-meter.
His family members said his involvement with Scientology deeply affected other family members.
“For years, I never said anything about Scientology,” Durni recalled. “You couldn’t. It was like we were controlled by it.”