Debate over Scientology intensifies

Reuters/January 15, 2007

(Reuters) In a country that refuses to recognise US-based Scientology as a church, saying it masquerades as a religion to make money, the six-storey building in the heart of west Berlin has been a focal point of national media coverage for weeks.

Of particular interest were the American celebrities who also came to attend the opening on Saturday (January 13). Jazz pianist Chick Corea has been a scientologist since 1968, as is Hollywood star Anne Archer. The actress, who played Michael Douglas ' s wife in "Fatal Attraction" and Harrison Ford ' s wife in "Patriot Games" has been a member of Scientology for around 30 years she said, and waves off any criticism.

"I have never ever got any criticism ever about Scientology. In fact, certainly in Los Angeles and the United States , Scientology is highly respected. In fact, artists who are scientologists are known. The word around Hollywood is if you want a job well done and you want a real professional, then you hire a Scientologist; they ' ll deliver a product, they ' ll do a great job. That is the reputation Scientology has in Hollywood ," said Archer.

Scientology leaders reject Germany ' s charges and calls on the government to stop spying on its members.

"You know the whole purpose of this church opening today is to answer people ' s questions," Archer said. "Because when people don ' t know what something is, then they make up an answer and I think probably that is what ' s happening. I think if people actually come and see these audio-visual displays, and just walk through, whether it is government officials, whether it is the public, whoever, it will answer all of their questions, and then they can decide for themselves," she said.

A small group of protesters outside the 43,000-sq foot building carried posters reading: "Brainwashing, no thanks".

"Scientology has become a very totalitarian, fascist system in the meantime, whose only purpose is to make money. If you look at the so-called philosophy of scientology, particularly the higher levels, then you see that it is absolute nonsense," said the former director of Scientology in Austria , Wilfried Handl in Berlin the day before the new church opened.

"Only the people who follow it have to pay huge sums of money for it."

Several hundred members of the organisation stood outside the new headquarters as well before the official opening, many of them carrying flags from different countries.

"They have got absolutely no business to be here, who let them come anyway? They don ' t have any basis here," said one unnamed resident.

Roland Hellwig said he had been coaxed into the scientologists ' former representation in Berlin ten years ago.

"They coaxed me inside and showed me a film and then I was supposed to pay and buy books and everything, but I got out of it very quickly. I didn ' t know what it was then, now I do. It is a sect who are just after our money."

German authorities, who on Friday refused a request by Scientology supporters to hold a rally at the opening on Saturday outside the building, argue Scientology is a purely economic organisation that exploits members to extract profits.

"I think Scientology is an organisation which actively approaches psychologically weaker people, makes them dependent on them and financially exploits them by promising some kind of cure or a that they will become a better person, and so I do regard this organisation critically," Berlin ' s State Interior Minister Ehrhard Koerting said.

Germany , which has been monitoring the activities of the organization for years, has also accused Scientology of suppressing members ' freedoms.

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