Paul Haggis (Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, who is known for films like "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby," has come to the former "King of Queens" star's defense in a public way, penning a letter of support in The Hollywood Reporter. The 60-year-old went through a similar situation when he parted ways with the church in 2009, and gives insight into what Remini is going through.
Noting that Remini, 43, was one of only two Scientologist friends who didn't "disconnect" from him when he loudly left the organization, he said they remained friendly ― though not close friends ― which didn't go unnoticed by key members of the church.
"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," Haggis wrote. "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."
Haggis also addressed the reason why Remini's relationship with the church first started to unravel: as previously reported, because she questioned leader David Miscavige about the whereabouts of his wife, Shelly, who hasn't been seen in public since 2007. The incident is said to have taken place at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's Italian wedding in 2006. Calling it news to him that Remini had "run afoul of the church by challenging ... David Miscavige, who is held to be infallible," Haggis said he had found himself in a similar situation.
"When I was leaving and was visited by waves of angry friends and a phalange of top Scientology executives, trying to convince me to ... resign quietly, I made a similar mistake by insisting they look into the charges of abuse detailed by the Tampa Bay Times," Haggis wrote referring to this special report. "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."
Leah Remini, with her husband, earlier this week. (Tiffany Rose/WireImage)
Haggis went on to commend Remini for trying to get to the bottom of her "longtime friend" Shelly's whereabouts, saying, "Unlike her pious friends, Leah refused to accept the easy excuses that were offered. She kept asking questions." (A lawyer for Shelly told Us Weekly in 2012 that she was "not missing" and any reports indicating she was were "false.")
He also noted that Remini's decision to leave Scientology was brave, because her roots in it were deep. She joined the church at the age of 9 with her mother, Vicki Marshall, who became a high-ranking member. Remini's husband, Angelo Pagan, also took Scientology courses. The actress's sister, Nicole Remini-Wiskow, left in 2005, and has spoken out on her behalf since Remini's recent split made headlines.
"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," he wrote.
Haggis concluded by sharing a conversation he had with Remini after he heard the news she had severed ties with the church in early July.
"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."
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the church told omg! that Haggis is a "status-obsessed screenwriter" who "has chosen to align himself with a small posse of lunatics with arrest records" and "is exploiting his tenuous connection with Scientology to grab headlines."
"Despite his spin, the truth is that Mr. Haggis was an inactive Scientologist for more than 30 years until he orchestrated a disingenuous 'departure' in 2009 aimed solely at getting media attention," the statement continued. "As a result, Paul Haggis has no first-hand knowledge about the Church of Scientology."
Read the statement in its entirety here.
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