The Church of Scientology, once branded a dangerous sect by members of the European parliament, is to open high-profile offices in Brussels next month.
And the new premises will be just a stone's throw from the European Union’s main bodies, officials of the church said on Monday.
The offices, with blue-and-yellow crucifix banners already fluttering in the breeze outside, will provide a focus for “human rights” work by the US-founded church, which has sparked concern in a number of European countries.
“The aim is to present, in the form of a permanent exhibition, our activities involving the recovery of drug addicts and criminals, the fight against illiteracy and against the general decline in morality,” said one church official, Marc Bromberg.
“We also want to put on display our work in defending human rights, including denouncing psychiatric abuse, as well as what we do for freedom of expression and freedom of religion,” added another official, Martin Weightman.
|... but Nicole Kidman left the|
church when she split from Cruise
The church boasts some celebrity followers, including Hollywood stars Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Anne Archer. Cruise's former partner, actress Nicole Kidman, reportedly abandoned the church when she left her husband.
The plush, recently-renovated offices, are on the Rue de la Loi just down the road from the European Council building, the European Commission and the European parliament. They will be inaugurated on 17 September.
A number of Belgian newspapers criticised the decision.
The Libre Belgique noted that members of the European parliament had branded the church a harmful sect in 1997, and pointed out that nine of its members had been charged with membership of a criminal organisation. Their cases have yet to come to court.
Last March, the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe expressed concern over a campaign to promote the Church of Scientology by a number of European parliament members.
Founded in the United States in 1954 by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, Scientology was accorded the status of religion there in 1993, but is regarded with suspicion in many European countries, where opponents accuse it of manipulating adherents for financial ends.