Photographs and memories are all that remain of Sara Goldberg's relationship with her daughter, Ashley, a situation the mother is blaming on the Church of Scientology.
The Florida resident says she spent 36 years in the church, reaching the top level of spiritual progression. She says the problems began when her son, Nick Lister, developed doubts about the church. He started associating with vocal critics of the church, including Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, former high-ranking officials who quit and are now condemned by the church as liars and apostates.
"I didn't like the way they recruited," Lister said. He also had concerns about the church's theories about life and the universe. As a result, he said, he was labeled a "suppressive person."
His mother says church officials actively and repeatedly pressured her and her Scientologist husband to "disconnect" from her son, to cut off ties completely. She feared that refusing meant that she, too, would be labeled "suppressive" – likely leading to the loss of her relationship with her daughter, still a devout Scientologist.
The situation, Goldberg says, forced her into a quandary.
"No mother should ever have to make that choice," she said.
The church has long maintained it doesn't force anyone into disconnecting. In a statement, Church of Scientology officials said, "The Church cannot and does not dictate or manage the family relationship of parishioners.
"Any accusations or inferences that the Church interfered in the private affairs of this family are untrue."
But Goldberg showed ABC News a document – one she first shared with the Tampa Bay Times, which first broke the story – in which a church official says he cannot approve of her continued relationship with her son, explicitly using the word "disconnection."
Ultimately, she says, she and her husband chose to stand by Nick. As a result, they were both labeled "suppressive," she said, and their daughter chose to cut ties.
"She says, 'Y'know, until it changes I have to disconnect from you,'" Ashley said, according to Goldberg. "And we held each other and cried."
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