Scientology Boss Expects Acceptance

Associated Press/February 3, 1999
By Jan M. Olsen

Copenhagen, Denmark -- The Church of Scientology's struggle to gain recognition from European governments should pay off in the next decade, the head of its international branch said Wednesday.

The Los Angeles-based church created by late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard has been persistent in attempts to become recognized as a legitimate religion, said the Rev. Heber Jentzsch, president of Church of Scientology International.

``There is a shift,'' he said. ``Scientology has become visible. It will happen in the next five years, maybe 10 years.''

For now, the church is considered an economic enterprise in Germany and its 30,000 adherents are banned from public jobs and closely watched.

France registers the church on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities. A Greek court closed operations in that country in 1997. Most other European countries also don't accept it as a religious community.

``It's not been easy. But we never thought of withdrawing,'' Jentzsch said from the church's European headquarters in Copenhagen. ``Any new religion, any new ideas will be fought. There is an old guard that is threatened by anything that is new.''

Jentzsch said much of the problem stems from misinformation that remains from U.S. investigations into the church in the 1960s and 1970s. He also rejected reports that people who want to leave the church are harassed.

The church didn't win tax-free status as a religion in the United States until 1993, he noted.

Hubbard founded the church in 1954 to teach that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. Five years later, he opened a first European office in Britain.

The church heads into its 40th anniversary in Europe with 53 offices and about 3 million members, Jentzsch said. Worldwide, it is represented in 129 countries and has almost 9 million members worldwide, including movie actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

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