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Tears flow as Scientologist meets with parents

Title: Tears flow as Scientologist meets with parents
Date: Friday, 16 May 1980
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Craig Roberton
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CLEARWATER — Tears of joy mingled with beads of sweat under a warm noontime gun Thursday when a young Scientologist embraced his father and mother on the steps of Clearwater City Hall.

Crowded around them were officials of the Church of Scientology, church critics, news people and residents. No one interfered as the emotional seconds passed, and tears streamed quietly down the relieved faces of the family members.

For Leon and Kathleen Haigler, a retired couple from Fairfax. Va., the embrace meant that they would realise their goal of meeting privately with their son in the presence of Nan McLean, a nationally known critic of Scientology.

For 23-year-old Donald Haigler, the embrace meant giving up his hitherto firm resolve not to meet with his parents in the presence of Mrs. McLean, considered by church officials to be a dangerous "deprogramer."

MINUTES LATER, the three Haiglers and Mrs. McLean drove off in a rust-colored Plymouth Duster to a local motel, where the concerned parents and Mrs. McLean tried to convince Donald to leave Scientology for good. The elder Haigler said later that his son was to spend the night at the church but continue talking with his family and Mrs. McLean today.

Thursday's breakthrough was made possible by a combination of events involving church officials, a television newsman, Clearwater City Commissioner Richard Tenney and ex-Scientologist Alex Cornell.

It began Thursday morning, when church officials notified the news media that Donald Haigler would have a press conference 11 a.m. to explain why he refused to meet with his parents with Mrs. McLean present. Donald's parents had previously scheduled their own press conference for noon to explain their reasons for trying to arrange such a meeting.

"I believe Nan McLean is trying to break up my family," the younger Haigler told reporters at the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel. He said he had seen documents showing that Mrs. McLean was a "deprogamer." He said he feared that Mrs. McLean had talked his parents into allowing her to forcibly deprogram him.

He did not want to be kidnapped, Donald Haigler said.

THE YOUNG MAN, sporting a thin mustache, told newsmen that he is free to make his own decisions. Church officials produced a written evaluation by psychiatrist Alfred Fireman, who concluded that Haigler is fully able to make rational choices. (An official of the Medfield Center in Seminole, with which Fireman is associated, stressed that the center is not affiliated with the church and that Fireman was acting on his own in evaluating Haigler.)

Haigler also said he is aware of recent allegations against Scientology, including the criminal conviction of some top church officials in Washington. He repeated the church's position that the criminal acts violated church policy and he does not condone them.

Haigler, a church cook, said Scientology has done much for him, including ridding him of a drug problem. He described his billion-year contract with Scientology as "a vow to help mankind."

Haigler said he loves his parents and has kept in touch with them. He said he went out with them and Mrs. McLean Tuesday evening, but only after insisting on taking a friend to guard against being kidnapped. "The presence of Nan made real communication hard," he said.

AT THE CLOSE of Haigler's press conference, WTSP-TV newsman Stephen Gauvain challenged him to attend his parents' forthcoming press conferences short distance away, in front of City Hall. Donald Haigler seemed unsure. He glanced at church spokesman Milt Wolfe. "Well," Haigler said, if there's no objection . . ."

Thirty minutes later, Donald Haigler, accompanied by Wolfe and other church officials, was in the crowd listening to his parents press conference.

He heard his father say that Donald Haigler's fears of being kidnapped are "totally, totally false." He saw tears well up in his father's eyes as the retired, gray-haired geologist added: "There is no way I would kidnap my own son."

Haigler's voice broke. Mrs. Haigler grabbed her husband's hand and carried on, with her son watching intently. "He knows we love him," she said. "He knows we would never do anything intentionally to harm him."

THE HAIGLERS, flanked by Mrs. McLean, Tenney and Cornell, said they believe Donald is being held as a "psychological hostage" in the Church of Scientology.

Two other Haigler children have joined Scientology in the north, they said. "I know/ how they have changed," Mrs. Haigler said. "They don't believe anything unless it's Scientology-written."

Mrs. Haigler said she only wants "to get through to my kids." If nothing is wrong with Scientology, she asked, "why are they (church officials) so afraid to have him meet with us?"

Cornell and Tenney spotted Haigler in the crowd. They approached him and urged him to meet privately with his parents and Mrs. McLean. He finally agreed. The embrace followed

"I'd rather not," the young Haigler said as he climbed into his parents' car. "But if my parents want it, I guess it will be all right."