The National Catholic Review

The last several years have been exceedingly unkind to Scientology. In 2007 the Belgian State Prosecution Office announced that it thought the organization should be prosecuted for crime. In late October, 2009, a French court found Scientology, France guilty of severe fraud in “cheating” vulnerable members of their meager life savings. The Court fined Scientology 600,000 euros and placed Alan Rosenberg, the head of Scientology, France on a two-year suspended sentence. Scientology claims religious persecution in the case and pledged to appeal, if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights. Scientology, following its doctrine of  “fair game” has been notoriously litigious over the years. “Fair game” got so defined, in the words of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology: “Those who seek to damage the church may be deprived of property or impaired by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”

Recent allegations about Scientology rely less on the organization’s belief system, which represents a strange amalgam of pseudo-psychology; a Gnostic claim to reach a stage above the possibility of human sin or frailty; reliance on a pseudo-scientific machine that is supposed to detect human lies or negative blockages and, a long process of auditing to remove blockages toward achieving the desired stage of being  “clear.” The process can cost anywhere from $25,000 to the neighborhood of $1 million. The recent attacks on Scientology focus mainly on its behaviors, many of which are distasteful but may be legal; some of which are, arguably, criminal.

The St. Petersberg Times published a series of articles in 2009, recounting some of the alleged internal practices of Scientology: a internal culture of systematic physical violence; its dis-connection policy (isolating Scientology recruits from family or outside influences); an “ecclesiastical justice” system that involves public confessions, isolation, forced imprisonments; claims that the organization coerces abortions among the women members of its elite Sea Org., a  near monastic sub- set of volunteer workers. The Times articles, relying on testimony of defectors, recount horror stories of physical abuse, families being ripped apart, forced isolation. One famous case of forced isolation, Lisa McPherson, led to her death in mysterious circumstances, after 17 days of isolation.

What is not entirely clear, even to sociologists of religion who have studied the group, such as David Bromley from Virginia Commonwealth University, is how much of the behaviors of Scientology recruits are voluntary or coercive, therapeutic or punitive. A Times editorial printed Nov. 6, 2009 asked: “Why are government authorities looking the other way? The Internal Revenue Service has ample reason to reconsider the decision to grant Scientology exempt status as a religion. Law enforcement ought to investigate whether the church’s restraint on members’ free movement crossed a legal line.”

In the past, however, and allegedly more recently, evidence exists of actual criminal behavior by high-placed Scientology operatives.  In 1979, Mary Sue Hubbard  (wife of the founder) and ten other Scientologists were convicted in U.S. Federal Court for conspiring to steal government documents (related to Scientology) and obstructing justice. In December 2009, Rex Fowler, a Scientologist minister, murdered his business partner in Denver who had threatened to expose Fowler’s illegal donations to Scientology. On November 16, 2009, Senator Nick Xenophon, a member of the Australian upper house, entered a parliamentary motion asking for a criminal investigation of Scientology in Australia.

Xenophon’s intervention (which prompted the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd to comment to the press that the charges were grave and that many Australians had serious questions about Scientology) introduced evidence from former Scientology members containing allegations of false imprisonment, coerced abortions, embezzlement of church funds, destroying evidence about suspicious deaths, cover-ups of child sexual abuse and murder. A young Australian, Edward Mc Bride, who had gone through a large amount of borrowed money to pay for his Scientology auditing, committed suicide. The day before his suicide (there are many suicides among Scientologists), he was harassed by Scientology members. The Scientology file on him was removed from Australia and the government unable to access it. Scientology, typically, responds to its critics by claiming religious persecution. Xenophon responded by calling Scientology a “criminal organization which hides behind its religious beliefs.”  “Ultimately, this is not about religious freedom. In Australia, there are no limits on what you can believe. But there are limits on how you can behave. It is called the law and no one is above it.”

In Italy, in the late fall of 2009 the Daughters of Saint Paul published a book by fourteen ex-Scientologists, The Courage to Speak Out. They had earlier published a book by Maria Pia Gardin, an ex-Scientologist. Scientology tried to block the publication and is now suing Gardin for libel. Clearly, Scientology’s record on freedom of speech is quite spotty. When You Tube put on the web an embarrassing video of Tom Cruise making exaggerated claims about Scientology’s superiority, Scientology, claiming a copyright infringement, forced its removal. This attempt at censorship of free speech evoked a new response to the organization by computer nerds and an internet network called Anonymous.  Throughout 2008 and 2009, Anonymous protested against Scientology’s scorn for free speech, its policy of dis-connection, its financial exploitation of the vulnerable. Anonymous may well, itself, have crossed a legal line in hacking into Scientology sites on the internet or taking them down.  The group also organized many protests in front of Scientology offices all over the world.  Scientology, which is notorious for using the confession material of its members to blackmail or disgrace them if they defect, set up a web site, Anonymous Facts, which put on the web names and personal information of several supposed Anonymous members. Eventually, You Tube suspended that Scientology account for its dubious behaviors of spreading such personal defamation.

What to make of all of these allegations? Scientology tends to defend against its detractors (especially defectors) by reminding the public of the sour grapes of disgruntled former employees and devotees. There is some truth to that rejoinder but simply too many allegations, from a multiple number of former Scientology members (many of whom held high posts in the organization), recounting similar stories of forced abortions for female Sea Org members, doctoring or destroying of internal documents etc. Clarity should be maintained between genuine religious freedom to believe what one wants and allegations of criminal or legally unacceptable behaviors. For me, religious liberty implies complete freedom of exit from religion. Scientology makes it difficult for disgruntled former members to leave, except on its own long-drawn out terms involving confessions that the member is harmful to the church and promises not to sue Scientology. Just leaving on one’s own is punished by being hounded by private investigators. I suspect with so much smoke, somewhere there must be a real fire. While the organization hates the term, it is a totalitarian “cult.” It just may also be criminal.

John Coleman, S.J.

Comments

Patricia Buie | 2/15/2010 - 1:16pm
Thank you very much for printing the truth about the abuses and crimes of Scientology.  I was a member many years ago and, thank God, left before the insanity began.  I was not aware of how bad it had become, until I checked it out on the internet. 
Please, continue to investigate this organization and make your findings public for the sake of the young people who are their usual targets.
I can not believe that our government is not doing something about the crimes and abuses.  They must realize that Scientology is not a religion but just as Senator Xenu stated, a criminal organization hiding behind a religious front.
 
Mick Wenlock | 2/15/2010 - 11:58am
An excellent and dispassionate look at the current furore surrounding Scientology. As a former member of the cult and it's inner "core" I do know that such articles help those who might otherwise get enmeshed in this very manipulative organization. Thank you for putting this out there.
Anon Advocate | 2/15/2010 - 11:45am
Thank you for the very informative look into these aspects of the abusive practices committed against its members by the scientology organization. In addition to the nice summary link provided by Ms. McConnell above, you can also find a fully sourced looked at the why Christianity and Scientology is not compatible from a comparative theology perspective here: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p89.htm
Mary McConnell | 2/12/2010 - 10:15am
Criminal, indeed! Thank you for taking a stand against this totalitarian cult.
Notice how the commenter, Scientologist David Griffiths, attacks the Catholic church in an attempt to divert attention from the truths you have written in your excellent article. This is Scientology PR policies at work when the truth about it's organization are exposed in the media.
In order to see how dangerous Scientology is, articles like this must be written.  ''Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.'' Ephesians 5:11 
Christians can and should read up on the comparison between Scientology and Christianity to see what Scientology really believes about Christ and faith in God. http://www.bible.ca/scientology-christianity-compared.htm
Jonathan Jacobsen | 2/11/2010 - 12:11pm
The convictions last year in Paris show that it is possible to pursue individuals - and indeed the organisation itself - for criminal activity without restricting the rights of ordinary members.
It is worth noting too that another factor that makes it difficult for members to leave without going through the burdensome official routing out procedure is Scientology's disconnection policy.
If you quit Scientology without following their rules you risk being declared a Suppressive Person - an enemy of the movement. All Scientologists in good standing are then obliged to break contact with you - or risk being shunned in turn. This is arguably the single most destructive policy currently applied inside Scientology.
Despite what the movement's spokesman say, disconnection is compulsory, not a matter of choice for individual members. One of the "high crimes" for which one can be declared a Suppressive Person is "Failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts."
Jonny Jacobsen
Paris
David Griffiths | 2/11/2010 - 7:05am
Frankly I would think the Catholic Church had enough experience of media attacks, just now there are allegations of sexual abuse in Germany, and of course we just had Ireland.
Jesus said, "do not criticise the mote in your brother's eye when you ignore the log in your own".   And certainly one might add, "don't base your views on newspaper reports".  In fact I join with Jesus in hoping people can see the good in others rather than a desire to see them as evil.
I support religious discussion but it should be careful and well mannered.
For many years I worked with a Jesuit priest, who had taught at Harvard and Oxford, in an interfaith group that crossed the divide between theological colleges and emerging religions.
Scientology has exposed attackers against it including a psychiatrist who killed with the brainwashing deep sedation treatment, a leader of the anticult movement who was a pedophile, and just today the group annonymous which has been waging a hate campaign using the internet:
"This week, anti-Scientology group Anonymous blocked access to some key Australian government websites, including the parliament site and the website of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.It was in protest at plans to block access to a range of sites, including those featuring gay pornography."http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8506698.stm
Needless to say although I am no longer officially involved in public affairs for the Church of Scientology, we do believe that the internet should not harbor hate groups.
 
 
Ian Walton | 2/10/2010 - 1:16am
The Scientology claim that the protest movement called "Anonymous" is a "hate-group", is laughable. The truth is that when there is an assault or other criminal acts at one of the protest, it is ALWAYS perpertrated by a SCIENTOLOGY FOLLOWER. TheY want to distract you from the 50 year history of crime and abuse in this CULT, by pointing out two mis-guided young men that were caught FOR A NON-VIOLENT ACT  and will pay their dues. What about the SCIENTOLOGY CHILD ABUSER WALLY HANKS!!!! He abused young children for YEARS, with full knowledge and encouragment by his supervisors in the cult. He made millions of dollars for Scientology, before his abuse got to sever for even the Scientologist to cover up. If you want to hear the extent of this abuse, just click on the user name below. Warning: this is a recording of an act of offical child abuse in the Cult of Scientology. Recordings like this surfaced after the Jonestown mass suicide. Are we going to wait for something that dwarfs Jonestown, before we all stand up and say "Scientology......GET OUT." 
Michael Bindner | 2/9/2010 - 7:51pm
They also went after Werner Earheart, who created Est and the Forum. Their attack machine discredited him personally and forced his sale of the Forum to what is now Landmark Education. Sometimes you reap what you sew.
Bill Collier | 2/9/2010 - 4:30pm
Thanks for the detailed post about this organization, Father Coleman. I have to wonder if Scientology would flourish without its Hollywood roots, especially the coterie of celebrities that are ideal marketing tools for L. Ron Hubbard's creation. I also find it ironic that at least three of the best-known celebrity Scientologists-John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Katie Holmes-were raised as Catholics, as was David Miscavige, the current "chairman" of the "church." I agree with you that the allegations of physical and mental abuse, fraud, etc. are just too numerous and similar to discount as simply the complaints of disgruntled former employees and members of the organization. It often seems that foreign countries are much more willing to take a hard look at the practices of Scientology than the U.S. is willing to do.
Gina Neutro | 2/9/2010 - 4:14pm
Anonymous continues to against abuses carried out by the so-called Church of Scientology and does so in a peaceful and legal manner around the world. The Fair Game policy is still very much in action and is currently being implemented in Australia against Aaron Saxton, a former Scientologist who provided a great deal of information to Senator Xenophon, including the issue of coerced abortions.
http://forums.whyweprotest.net/24-fair-game-reports-personal-experiences/new-avo-aaron-saxton-time-cyrus-brooks-61040/