Niece of Scientology leader describes rocky youth in church


She was 6 years old and dreamed of being a princess. But her life was far from a fairy tale.

She spent mornings working as a groundskeeper at a Scientology youth camp in California, where she lived with 15 other children whose parents were away, toiling for the church.

At 7, she became the camp's "medical officer.'' Her job: visit the kids who were sick and treat them with vitamins or ointments.

These are among the opening scenes in a revealing book released this week by another Church of Scientology whistle-blower, this one with a big name.

Jenna Miscavige Hill is the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige. Her memoir, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, is an insightful account of growing up in the church's controlling environment.

Her parents, Bitty and Ronald Miscavige Jr., joined the church's religious order, the Sea Org, in 1985, when Jenna was not yet 2. Ronald is seven years older than David Miscavige. David, however, was a rising star.

He had dropped out of high school years earlier to work for the church. Intense and intelligent, he became a favorite of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. After Hubbard died in 1986, David Miscavige took control of the church. He was 26.

Hill's memoir provides deeper insights into Miscavige, who in recent years has been accused by former members of his leadership team of physically abusing subordinates. The church vigorously denies that.

Hill breaks no new ground on those allegations. But she delivers insight into the Miscavige family dynamic. Scientology's first family now is diminished by defection.

Her parents grew disillusioned and left the church in the early 2000s. Hill recounts that inside story and describes how she left in 2005.

She also confirms that her grandfather, Ronald Miscavige Sr., left the church last year. He had introduced the family to Scientology in the early 1970s. Hill says he escaped from the church's tightly guarded compound near Hemet, Calif., fed up with life in the Sea Org. In his mid 70s, he is living with Ronald Jr. in Virginia.

Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Friday that the church does not discuss the Miscavige family. She also rejected Hill's claims that growing up in the church was difficult.

"The church has long respected the family unit while accommodating and helping those raising children,'' Pouw said. "The church does not engage in any activities that mistreat, neglect or force children to engage in manual labor. The church follows all laws with respect to children.''

She added that Hill's accounts of church schools don't align with recollections of 30 of her classmates. They recall it as "idyllic,'' Pouw said.

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