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Paul Haggis Speaks Out on Scientology for First Time : 'I Was in a Cult for 34 Years'

The issue of same-sex marriage, abuse allegations triggered his decision to leave in 2009: "My God, it horrified me!"

For the first time, Academy award-winning, screenwriter-director Paul Haggis is speaking out about his three decades with the Church of Scientology and why he quit the controversial religion in 2009.

"I was in a cult for 34 years," he tells the latest issue of the New Yorker of his time in the church. "Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't."   Haggis - whose screenwriting credits include Crash and Million Dollar Baby - says he joined the church for a sense of belonging. "There was a feeling of camaraderie that was something I'd never experienced; all these atheists looking for something to believe in, and all these loners looking for a club to join," he says.   But when the church declined to publicly denounce Proposition 8, the measure that banned same-sex marriages in California, he said he just had to leave.   His youngest daughter, Katy, from his first marriage, "lost the friendship of a fellow-Scientologist after revealing that she was gay," according to the New Yorker. (Tommy Davis, chief spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, claims Katy's friend ended the friendship not because Katy was "lesbian but because Katy lied about it.")   Haggis also had other issues with the church: He says his wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents after they left the church.   He also read an expose by the St. Petersburg Times that reported allegations of physical violence among church senior executives and other Scientologists.   The stories Haggis found on the Internet of children drafted into the Sea Org -- Scientology’s religious order within the Church -- reminded him of child slaves he had seen in Haiti.   "They were ten years old, twelve years old, ... scrubbing pots, manual labor—that so deeply touched me," Haggis says. "My God, it horrified me!"    Related article: Paul Haggis denies collaborating on Scientology book The New Yorker claims the FBI is investigating allegations of physical abuse and misconduct within the church hierarchy (the Church of Scientology says it is not aware of the investigation).   A dozen people tell the New Yorker they were either physically abused or witnessed abuse at the hands of Scientology leader David Miscavige.   John Brousseau, a former member of the “Sea Org,” also tells the New Yorker he went to extraordinary lengths catering to members, including Tom Cruise.   He recalls helping customize a Ford Excursion S.U.V. that Cruise owned, installing handmade eucalyptus panelling -- a gift to Cruise from Scientology leader David Miscavige.   “I was getting paid fifty dollars a week,” Brousseau recalls. “And I’m supposed to be working for the betterment of mankind.”    Brousseau says in 2005, Miscavige showed Cruise a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he owned. At Miscavige’s request, Brousseau had had the vehicle’s parts plated with brushed nickel and painted candy-apple red.    Brousseau recalls to the New Yorker, “Cruise asked me, ‘God, could you paint my bike like that?’ I looked at Miscavige, and Miscavige agreed.” Cruise brought in two motorcycles to be painted, a Triumph and a Honda Rune; the Honda had been given to him by Spielberg after the filming of War of the Worlds. “The Honda already had a custom paint job by the set designer,” Brousseau recalls. Each motorcycle had to be taken apart completely, and all the parts nickel-plated, before it was painted.   The church denies Brousseau’s account, as does Cruise's lawyer who says, “the Church of Scientology has never expended any funds to the personal benefit of Mr. Cruise or provided him with free services.”   The church has issued the following statement about the article:    "It is unfortunate that The New Yorker chose to introduce its readers to Scientology through the eyes of an apostate, someone religious scholars unanimously denounce as unreliable, rather than take advantage of the Church's invitation to experience its practices and humanitarian works firsthand. The New Yorker doesn't mention Scientology's global human rights initiative, which has educated millions on human rights. Or its "Truth About Drug" crusade, teaching millions how to live drug-free. Or its global Volunteer Ministers program, whose work in Haiti alone has been hailed by the international community. Or its dozens of new Churches bringing Scientology's life saving technology to communities around the world. Indeed the newest Church opened just this last week in Melbourne, Australia.   "The one grain of truth in the article is its acknowledgement of the positive effect Scientology has had on the lives of its adherents and the world at large—that is the message of Scientology.   "The article is little more than a regurgitation of old allegations that have long been disproved. It is disappointing that a magazine with the reputation of The New Yorker chose to reprint these sensationalist claims from disaffected former members hardly worthy of a tabloid. As for the claim that the Church is the subject of a federal investigation, the Church has never been advised of any government investigation, a fact The New Yorker knew before it went to print. Moreover, the subject of the alleged investigation was recently raised in a lawsuit by the same individuals who are the sources for the article and the complaint was resoundingly dismissed by a Federal District Court Judge. The New Yorker was aware of   this fact but irresponsibly sought to use the claim of an "investigation" to garner headlines for an otherwise stale article containing nothing but rehashed unfounded allegations.   "Anyone who wants to know the true story of Scientology should find out for themselves by coming to a Church of Scientology, whose doors are always open, or going to the Church's website, www.Scientology.org."