Scientology membership in drastic decline

Australian Broadcast Corporation, Lateline/June 29, 2012

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: It's been a tough week for the Scientologists in Australia.

One of the church's most prominent figures has resigned and denounced the church's leadership.

Meanwhile, figures released to Lateline from the Australian census, shows that membership of the Church of Scientology's in such decline that its numbers are now dwarfed by people who identify as Jedis and Wiccans.

Steve Cannane reports.

STEVE CANNANE: It bills itself as the world's fastest growing religion.

But in Australia, Scientology is going backwards.

Figures from the 2011 Census show that only 2,163 Australians call themselves Scientologists. That's a drop of 13.7 per cent over five years.

PAUL SCHOFIELD, FORMER SCIENTOLOGIST: The spin doctors will be sleeping under their desks for the next few days trying to work out a way to present this as somehow Scientology still expanding here.

STEVE CANNANE: The Church of Scientology is big on statistics. Each Thursday, staff report their weekly statistics to Scientology executives.

The latest Census figures won't please head office.

PAUL SCHOFIELD: Scientology's totally obsessed with statistics, so if your statistics aren't going up you get punished and they're probably the world's most creative people with numbers when it comes to increases. You know figures of 12 million scientologists worldwide when there's probably been a maximum of a 100,000 Scientologists in the world at any one given time; they're just ludicrous.

STEVE CANNANE: Two years ago a Scientology spokesman told Four Corners there could be hundreds of thousands of Scientologists in Australia.

TOMMY DAVIS, SCIENTOLOGY SPOKESMAN: I know it numbers in, you know minimally in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. I mean Scientology's been in Australia for, for 60 years.

STEVE CANNANE: But when confronted with the Census figures today, The Church of Scientology was not available for interview. In a statement they said.

VOICEOVER (reading statement): The Census figures are not an accurate reflection of the growing number of people visiting our churches and actively participating in Scientology, both in Australia and internationally. The Church internationally has grown more in the past 5 years than it has in the previous 50.

STEVE CANNANE: In a further blow to Scientology one of the church's most prominent figures in Australia has quit.

STEVE CANNANE: Wendy Honnor is the first winner of the church's prestigious Freedom Medal to quit and publicly denounce the Church of Scientology.

STEVE CANNANE: In an email she wrote "The only way out is out. I am free."

But while Scientology is going backwards in Australia, other minority religions are growing.

Pantheism increased by 35 per cent, Rastafarians by a cool 30 per cent, while members of the Jedi Faith now number 65,000 – over 30 times more than Scientology.

PETER LEE, JEDI MASTER: It's less of a stigma now. Right back in 2001 there was that stigma - that it was a joke religion and that it was just a prank played on the census but I'm finding that I declare myself as Jedi everywhere I go and I'm finding less and less heckling or giggling.

STEVE CANNANE: Peter Lee has already applied to the Tax Office to have Jediism recognised as a religion.

PETER LEE: It is a serious religion; it's a very serious religion. More than half the population in the world believe in a life force energy. We believe in The Force as our life force energy.

STEVE CANNANE: Another minority religion that has grown is Wicca, which incorporates witchcraft.

TIM, WICCAN: We want to be recognised. For a long time we have been, you know, in the broom closet and now's the time to really stand up and be counted.

STEVE CANNANE: According to the Census, there are nearly eight-and-a-half thousand Wiccans, four times the amount of Scientologists.

TIM: I'm not surprised at all; there's been a growing trend for years now. I'm involved with running workshops and so I've seen a dramatic increase in people's interest. One workshop that I've set up for later in the year sold out within a couple of weeks and normally that would take months and months to sell out.

Steve Cannane, Lateline.

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