The Suicide Memo
Judge Yves Régimont, having questioned the defendant Bernadette P.* closely about the Purification Rundown, turned to a specific case that concerned her, that of a Mme V.
It took a while before the full story came out, but it quickly became clear that the judge had kept the most difficult questions for the end.
Certainly, Bernadette recognised the name. She asked for time to consult her notes on the matter, the court adjourned briefly and then they got down to the matter in hand.
Mme V. had done some Scientology courses in the early 1990s, including the Purification Rundown in 1993. Bernadette consulted her notes. She went to great lengths to explain that while Mme V. had had some problems during the Rundown, in the end she had reported that it had done her a lot of good.
But this was not the part of Mme V.’s story that most interested the judge.
He was more concerned about an incident that had happened in 1997, four years after she had taken the Rundown. Mme V.’s husband had approached the Church of Scientology asking them to help his wife, he reminded her.
Bernadette remembered. The husband had said his wife was very tired, so Bernadette said he should send her in to see her.
“She was tired and said she could not handle being a mother,” she said. Bernadette advised her to see a doctor.
“Did you not refuse to audit her?” asked the doctor.
“I gave her some advice,” said Bernadette.
According to what he had in his files, said the judge, Bernadette had not wanted to audit Mme V. because she had psychological problems.
“For me, she didn’t have psychological problems,” she insisted. “She was just tired. I told her to go to the doctor.”
“Did you not tell her to see a doctor in France?” the judge asked. “You keep saying that it is the parishioner who decides. But did this lady at some point say she wanted to be supported by Scientology?” Or had it been her husband?
It was Mme V. who had come seeking auditing, said Bernadette. But since she could see that she was too tired to be audited she gave her some simple tasks to do instead.
The next time she saw her was three months later, she said. “At that point, I realised that this lady was in very bad shape." The judge had the clerk note that.
“She was very disturbed,” Bernadette continued. How to explain, she said. It was not easy. She paused.
Mme V., said Bernadette, had told her that she had had a row with her husband and that – as a way of getting back at him by causing him problems with Scientology – she had told members of the family that she had attempted suicide.
Judge Régimont consulted the case files. What she was saying did not appear to match what he had there.
“Did she not say that she had tried to commit suicide because of Scientology?” the judge asked.
“She didn’t want him to spend money on Scientology,” he said.
“He wanted to reach a certain level and so was spending a lot of money – in her opinion – to the point where she did not have enough to … support herself,” said the judge.
“‘So I wanted to kill myself’,” he added, apparently quoting from the case files. “And it was then that you sent her to see a Dr. Boublil.”
Bernadette did not recall it that way, but the judge persisted. Dr. Boublil, he said: a Scientologist; a doctor in Paris; a specialist.
“Apparently he is a pediatrician,” ventured Bernadette. “I insisted that she see a doctor,” she added. Where Boublil’s name had come into it, she did not know.
The judge changed tack. “Can you audit someone if they haven’t paid?” he asked.
Normally no, replied Bernadette.
The husband had said that he had paid money over so that his wife could be audited – but that you had refused to give the auditing, said the judge.
No, said Bernadette: she had explained to Mme V. that no money had been paid. The judge had the clerk note that too.
The defendant, he dictated, says that she told Mme V. that her husband had not paid for or ordered religious services; that in any case it was she who had to authorize the giving of such services; and that given Mme V.’s psychological state she could not give her clearance for auditing.
A little later however, she added that unknown to her, as she was talking to Mme V., her husband had gone to the bank to make the payments for her auditing. But she had subsequently ensured that the money had been refunded. At some point the sum of 180,000 Belgian francs (4,460 euros) was mentioned: but it was not clear if it was in relation to this incident or another.
The judge also referred in passing to the Scientology term PTS, which stands for Potential Trouble Source. (In Scientology, a person considered PTS cannot receive any auditing.) But if Mme V. was considered PTS, it was not made clear why.
Judge Régimont asked about Overts and Withholds. What were they?
“They are something a person has done that they shouldn’t have done,” Bernadette explained.
In Mme V.’s case, she added, “She said she had done bad things, and had said bad things about her husband to her mother.”
So she had suggested to Mme V., that – if it would help her – she could write up her Overts and Withholds.
“The husband was there,” she stressed. “I was in the other room and she wrote what she wanted.”
It was only when she had read it later that she saw the reference to the suicide attempt.
Finally, the judge got to the heart of the matter.
“Did she not say that she had tried to commit suicide because of Scientology?” he asked. “That doesn’t ring a bell?”
What Mme V. had told her was not coherent, said Bernadette. But the judge persisted.
“She didn’t speak of her family, but of Scientology,” he said.
“You say that you don’t remember if she said this to you or if you read it in the Overts [and Withholds] – that she tried to commit suicide to get the attention of her mother.”
But Bernadette's version of events did not seem to square with what he had in the case files.
Mme V. had not been happy with the fact that Scientology staff were often contacting her husband, said the judge. Then at some point down the line, she had been asked to write up her Overts and Withholds.
Overts and Withholds; PTS; the judge seemed to be suggesting that so far as he could tell from the documents in front of him, Scientology had been treating her as a problem rather than trying to help her.
And then there was the matter of the document that Bernadette had requested from Mme V.
“I wanted to defend my Church. I thought it was normal.”
Gradually, it emerged that Bernadette had gone out to Mme V.’s home one night to persuade her to sign a declaration to the effect that her suicide attempt had had nothing to do with Scientology.
“I thought she had done it without meaning to,” said Bernadette, referring, apparently, to the fact that Mme V. had linked Scientology to her suicide attempt.
Mme V. had told her that she had lied to her parents about attempting suicide, she explained.
“I am a member of the Church of Scientology and I think it is normal that the truth is revealed. When something like that happens it is always seen very badly … so I wanted to defend my Church. I thought it was normal.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. So she had consulted another Scientologist, who had advised her to go and see Mme V. about her signing such a document.
“Perhaps that was not the best thing to do,” she conceded. “Perhaps I was mistaken.”
“But your starting point was that she was talking nonsense,” said the judge.
“That she was confused,” said Bernadette.
“Someone who was confused and was thus weak,” the judge continued. “And she made a certain number of statements.
"But you thought, ‘I’m not sure what did happen, but if we have her sign a document to the effect that if she did try to commit suicide, it wasn’t Scientology’s fault ’...
“Here we have someone who could pose a risk,” the judge continued. “You have doubts about what happened, the details of the suicide attempt. But the person is clearly disturbed. Did you not think to leave it for a few days?"
In answer to further questioning, Bernadette confirmed that the document in question had ended up with Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs. (OSA handles public relations, legal matters and external affairs.)
The judge still did not understand: why they had gone to such lengths to get this document from someone who was clearly vulnerable?
“What is the point of that document?” he asked. “Is it to get Scientology off the hook in the event that Mme V. actually went ahead and actually did it?”
“Yes, it could be,” said Bernadette.
And why, the judge asked, had the document gone to OSA?
“Because this type of document is handled by them,” she answered.
“So this woman was a danger to Scientology,” said the judge.
“Yes, I suppose so. It seems a bit like that.”
Fortunately, the judge noted, the woman concerned had not taken her own life. And with that, he dropped that line of questioning.
Further questioning established that Bernadette had left her staff job in Scientology in 2005 and the Church in 2010.
After the judge's examination of the defendant, the prosecutor found he had very little to add.
After discussing the timetable or the rest of the week with the defence lawyers, Judge Régimont brought the second day's proceedings to a close.
* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems reasonable to respect that practice.
Interior, Palais de Justice, Bruxelles, by Jean Housen — Travail personnel. Sous licence CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons