Prior to Leah Remini's break from Scientology this summer, Paul Haggis was arguably the most high-profile and outspoken celeb to resign from the organization. After 35 years as a Scientologist, Haggis left the church in 2009, after which he claims he was shunned by many of his "former friends." Remini was "one of two Scientologists who had refused to 'disconnect'" from him when he left, he writes in a new open letter for The Hollywood Reporter.
The letter addresses the King of Queens actress' recent departure from the Church of Scientology, which still counts Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and other celebs among its members. In the letter, Haggis -- an Oscar-winning director and screenwriter -- pledges his support for Remini and praises her for being "a class act and a lovely human being." (Asked for comment, a Scientologist spokesperson told THR that Haggis is a "status-obsessed screenwriter" whose "'open letter' is nothing more than a transparent promotional gimmick.")
"Leah and I were always friendly but never close friends," the Million Dollar Baby filmmaker writes. "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."
Regarding Remini's own departure from the church, Haggis says he is "disturbed" by "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," he writes.
Also surprising to him, he says, was "the report that Leah had run afoul of the church by challenging Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, who is held to be infallible." (Haggis recalls making "a similar mistake" before his resignation.)
"According to what I read on Tony Ortega's blog" -- The Underground Bunker, which was first to break news of Remini's departure from the church -- "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," Haggis writes. (For the record, an attorney for Shelly Miscavige told Us Weekly last year: "She is not missing. Any reports that she is missing are false. Mrs. Miscavige has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.")
Haggis' letter also addresses reports that Remini "got in trouble" for defending him after he left Scientology. "She had shouting matches with Tommy Davis, then the church spokesman, who had come to try and keep her quiet," he writes. "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."
"I can't express how much I admire Leah," he continues. "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."
Haggis notes that he contacted Remini toward the end of 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," he writes. "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 forever be grateful to her."
(Read the letter in its entirety at The Hollywood Reporter.)