Oscar-winning Crash director Paul Haggis has broken his silence about Leah Remini‘s defection from Scientology — the same move he made four years ago — saying he the “can’t express how much” he admires the King of Queens star for her brave decision to defect, as “her parents, family and close friends [are] almost all Scientologists.
“Leah is an incredibly strong woman and will get through this with the help of her family and her true friends,” the Crash director wrote in an open letter published by The Hollywood Reporter. “She is kind and generous and loyal; she has always cared more about others than herself.”
Haggis, who wrote Million Dollar Baby, noted that Remini was one of the two Scientologists to acknowledge his existence after he left the church in 2009 after nearly four decades, in direct contrast to the church’s policy of current Scientologists “disconnecting” from those estranged from the outfit.
He said during an encounter after he left, Leah “walked up, asked me why I was being weird and told me she would always be my friend and would never ‘disconnect’ from me.”
Remini’s criticism of Scientology leader David Miscavige reportedly paved her path out of the church, and Haggis gave a startling example of how Miscavige, who was Tom Cruise‘s best man during his wedding to Katie Holmes “is held to be infallible” in the eyes of his followers. He said during the time after his own defection from the church, he was visited by two higher-ups. They discussed Miscavige, and at one point, Haggis “made the polite suggestion that even great leaders like [Martin Luther King Jr.] were human and fallible” — a trigger for the devoted Scientologists.
“Two of the senior church leaders leapt to their feet and shouted at me, ‘How dare you compare a great man like David Miscavige to Martin Luther King!'” Haggis wrote.
Citing his own personal experiences, Haggis said he was not surprised at the Kirstie Alley controversy that sprouted soon after Remini’s defection, saying church officials will instruct everyone from underlings to high-profile celebrities to smear the actress. Still, he said he was “shocked to see how quickly those friends — some of whom had known Leah for 20 or 30 years — jumped on the ‘malign Leah’ campaign, and with such apparent glee.”
Remini’s leaving the church took “an enormous amount of integrity and compassion” and he said he’d leave it to the reader “to decide if the same can be said of Scientology’s executives and Leah’s many former friends — especially those Scientologists who are watching her be smeared now and are choosing to stay silent.”
In response to the letter, the church told THR Haggis is a “status-obsessed screenwriter,” and his latest communication “is nothing more than a transparent promotional gimmick.”
I didn’t say anything at the time for a number of reasons. I am in Europe and have been working here for the last year and a half, and, disregarding a few friendly e-mails and a couple of tweets, Leah and I haven’t spoken in quite a while. What I knew about Leah is that she was one of two Scientologists who had refused to “disconnect” from me and certainly the only high-profile one when I decided to quit the organization in August 2009. I also thought any comment would be premature and self-serving.
Leah and I were always friendly but never close friends. Despite this, she called me as soon as she heard about my letter of resignation. Unlike the rest of my former friends, she expressed real sadness that I was leaving and concern for me and my family. A few months later, we ran into each other at a school fair. I kept my distance for fear of putting her in an awkward position, but Leah had no such fear. She walked up, asked me why I was being weird and told me she would always be my friend and would never “disconnect” from me. Then she dragged me over and introduced me to her family. Soon after that, I moved to New York, and our paths just didn’t cross, but I was deeply touched by her gesture and genuine concern.
So all I could have said at the time was that, whether it was true Leah had resigned, she had always been a class act and a lovely human being — but that wasn’t news. Millions of people know that; her character shines through everything she does.
In the last few days, I read some things that really disturbed me. First was the way Leah was being attacked by her celebrity “friends,” who were disparaging her character. Having witnessed Scientology’s smear tactics, I can imagine how this was being orchestrated, but I was still shocked to see how quickly those friends — some of whom had known Leah for 20 or 30 years — jumped on the “malign Leah” campaign, and with such apparent glee. I assumed Scientology’s next step would be to try and plant disparaging stories about her with less-informed journalists and bloggers. And if others who have made noisy exits from the church are to be believed, Scientology would also use their Office of Special Affairs employees to attack Leah indirectly, posting negative comments about her shows and career and abilities under myriad false names, pretending to be disappointed fans or whatever. None of that is new.
What was new to me was the report that Leah had run afoul of the church by challenging Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, who is held to be infallible. When I was leaving and was visited by waves of angry friends and a phalange of top Scientology executives, trying to convince me to tear up my letter and resign quietly, I made a similar mistake by insisting they look into the charges of abuse detailed by the Tampa Bay Times. I was working on a film about Martin Luther King Jr. at that moment and made the polite suggestion that even great leaders like Dr. King were human and fallible. Two of the senior church leaders leapt to their feet and shouted at me, “How dare you compare a great man like David Miscavige to Martin Luther King!” I ended the meeting at that point, thanking them for coming.
According to what I read on Tony Ortega’s blog, at the 2006 wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Leah asked questions about her longtime friend Shelly, David Miscavige’s wife, who had suddenly disappeared. Unlike her pious friends, Leah refused to accept the easy excuses that were offered. She kept asking questions.
The next thing I learned made me feel terrible. Leah got in trouble because of me, because when I was “declared” a “Suppressive Person” and shunned, she came to my defense — without me ever knowing it. She had shouting matches with Tommy Davis, then the church spokesman, who had come to try and keep her quiet. The fact that she fought within the system so resolutely for so long, never making her feelings public, is a testament to how much she believed in the basic goodness of her friends and the institution. Finally, according to what I read, she was turned in by a celebrity friend who had noticed one of our few innocuous tweets.
I can’t express how much I admire Leah. Her parents, family and close friends were almost all Scientologists; the stakes for her were so much higher than for me. Her decision to leave was so much braver.
Having been consumed with my movie, I only learned much of what I have written here in the last few days. I also have to confess to not paying that much attention to news about Scientology. In this case, I should have. I finally called Leah during the last week of July. Her answering service didn’t recognize my number, so it took a while to get through. It was good to hear her voice and great to hear her laugh — though it was easy to tell she had been terribly hurt and shaken by the events of the last weeks.
That said, Leah is an incredibly strong woman and will get through this with the help of her family and her true friends. She is kind and generous and loyal; she has always cared more about others than herself. She barely knew me, and yet she fought for me and my family, a battle she had to know in her gut she was never going to win.
That takes an enormous amount of integrity and compassion. I will leave it to you to decide if the same can be said of Scientology’s executives and Leah’s many former friends — especially those Scientologists who are watching her be smeared now and are choosing to stay silent.
I will forever be grateful to her.
In a statement to Radar, the Church of Scientology condemned Haggis’ letter and said he had chosen to “align himself with a small posse of lunatics.”
“Mr. Haggis is a status-obsessed screenwriter who in the words of The Hollywood Reporter has been in “the wilderness” professionally for three years,” a statement read.
“Mr. Haggis once again is exploiting his tenuous connection with Scientology to grab headlines. His statement that the organization anonymously comments negatively about those who leave the Church is delusional and borders on paranoia.
“Desperately craving attention, his self-serving “open letter” is a transparent plug for an upcoming film still lacking U.S. distribution. If Mr. Haggis was as successful and prolific at manufacturing drama for audiences as he is at manufacturing it for gossip sites, then his career might have never gotten lost in the “wilderness.”
“Despite his spin, the truth is that Mr. Haggis was an inactive Scientologist for more than 30 years until he orchestrated a disingenuous “departure” in2009 aimed solely at getting media attention. As a result, Paul Haggis has no first-hand knowledge about the Church of Scientology but instead relies on a small collection of unemployed bloggers living on the fringe of the Internet who are obsessed with spinning myths about the Church.
“As to the true story of Scientology, under the 25-year leadership of Mr. Miscavige, following in the footsteps of our Founder, L. Ron Hubbard, the
Church is enjoying tremendous expansion as shown in our 37 new Churches opening in six continents and the many new parishioners joining their congregations.”