Paris - The author of a controversial new biography on celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise has found an unexpected new ally: the niece of Scientology's current leader, David Miscavige.
In an open letter to a senior Scientology official that has been widely posted on the Internet, Jenna Miscavige Hill described how her own family was broken apart by the movement's policies.
Hill's father is Ron Miscavige, the older brother of David Miscavige, the current leader of the Church of Scientology.
"Hell, if Scientology can't keep his family together -- then why on earth should anyone believe the church helps brings families together!" she wrote.
Hill, 23, wrote the letter after Scientology attacked writer Andrew Morton's recently published book "Tom Cruise: an Unauthorised Biography". The actor is a vocal advocate for the movement and the book gives it extensive coverage.
In a 15-page statement issued on January 14, Karin Pouw, the movement's public affairs director, denounced the book as a "bigoted defamatory assault replete with lies".
But in her reply to Pouw, Hill retorted: "I am absolutely shocked at how vehemently you insist upon not only denying the truths that have been stated about the church in that biography, but then take it a step further and tell outright lies."
In particular she challenges Scientology's denial that it puts pressure on members to break all contact with relatives who do not support the movement -- a practice known as disconnection.
Hill said it was this policy that broke up her own family.
"As you well know, my parents officially left the church when I was 16 in 2000," she wrote. Having been separated from them since the age of 12, she decided not to go with them.
But she added: "Not only was I not allowed to speak to them, I was not allowed to answer a phone for well over a year, in case it was them calling me."
Hill goes on to detail how Scientology officials intercepted letters from her parents and her friends.
She was only allowed to visit her parents once a year for a maximum of four days, she wrote -- and then only after her parents threatened legal action to get access.
When she returned from these visits, she was questioned to see if her parents had said anything bad about the movement.
Asked about the Hill's statement, Pouw told AFP: "The church stands by its statement of 14 January. The church does not respond to newsgroup postings."
Contacted by AFP, Hill said she had circulated the letter to draw attention to the practice of disconnection.
"My intention is to put it on a public forum so they are pressured into changing their ways -- even if it is just to cover for themselves."
Founded in the United States in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology was officially recognised as a religion there nearly 20 years later.
But it is often accused in Germany and other European countries, including Belgium, France and Greece, of exploiting its members financially.
Morton's book is currently at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for hardback non-fiction after its first week on sale.