Scientologist 'assisted' from CFA recovery area

The Age, Australia/December 19, 2007

Members of the Church of Scientology have reportedly been removed from a Gippsland staging ground where Country Fire Authority firefighters and crews have been recovering.

Members of the church were escorted by police from the Heyfield staging ground, locals said. But a church representative denied the report, saying church members had been helping out in the staging area for three days before leaving late last week at the request of the CFA.

Police were unavailable to comment.

Scientology groups, comprised largely of young people wearing T-shirts with "Volunteer Minister" written on them, were offering massages, or "assists", and providing a friendly ear to stressed citizens.

Anglican parish priest Keith South said the volunteers arrived at a time when the community was vulnerable.

"That's one of our concerns," he said.

Scientologists have been attending community meetings in the area offering to "do anything for anyone".

Group leader Michael, who would not give his surname, said the community had appreciated the help.

"We're cleaning gutters, giving firefighters assists. The response has been great," he said.

Based at one of Heyfield's two pubs, Scientologists have set up a tent with massage tables and a barbecue area.

Church of Scientology spokeswoman the Reverend Mary Anderson said members were helping out in the fire zone from Heyfield to Bairnsdale.

"They're just there to help," she said. "They're not there to brief anybody on what our religion is or anything."

Scientology has supporters such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

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