"Students to Recover"
It was a Catholic priest who introduced him to Scientology, Stéphane J. told the court. A Catholic priest who was also a Scientologist.(1)
On Thursday, the third day of the trial, it was Stéphane's turn to trace his progress through Scientology for the president of the court, Judge Yves Régimont. For health reasons, he preferred to remain seated to give his testimony.
When Stéphane started to tell the judge about the auditing he had received at the start of his progress through Scientology, the judge asked how an auditor could help someone he knew nothing about.
“How can they audit you when they don’t know you?” he asked. “How can this auditing be as efficient as with an auditing sessions after the OCA?” The judge was referring to Scientology’s Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA), a questionnaire Hubbard devised that is often offered to prospective members as a personality test.
Stéphane reassured the judge: auditors did not need the OCA results to effectively audit someone. To get people up the Bridge, he said, the auditor applied everything they had learned to eliminate all negative emotions and incidents in the auditing subject. To illustrate his point, he gave an example of what he said auditing could achieve.
“My wife was a gymnast and had an accident and so couldn’t compete anymore,” he said. Then she had some auditing sessions. “When she came out of her auditing session she did a flip salto, [a forward flip] as if she had never been operated on.”
Early on, he said, he had done Scientology courses because he too wanted to be an auditor. “I always wanted to help people and and then I found Scientology, something clicked and it was that that I wanted to do. So my first aim was to be an auditor.”
“These courses,” said the judge. “They’re no pushover (c’est pas donné). You have to do the hours and pay for them.”
Stéphane agreed. While he had not been paying much back in 1984, it got more expensive later. So at some point along the way, he decided to join staff to become an auditor, quitting his job as a typographer. But he resisted any suggestion that he had signed on as staff because of the rising cost of auditing. “The price was not the issue,” he said. “It was to help people.”
Four months into his staff job, he realized that there were only nine members of staff and he needed to do his share. “The others were putting all their energy into advancing the Church, so I decided to change direction.”
He took up a job in Division 1: personnel, ethics and communication. But he was also involved in the Ethics division, the judge noted, which appeared to be a fairly important post. “You arrived in the Church,” said the judge. “You stopped your studies to be an auditor – was it you who decided or was it someone else?”
“It was me who decided, given that we were only nine people,” Stéphane replied. They were so few, he explained, that each member of staff had several jobs – or hats, as Scientologists put it.
“Why did all these people say ‘They did not stop harassing me?’” the judge asked.
Judge Régimont spent some time trying to get a clearer idea of just who it was decided which courses a new Scientologist did: was it the client, or was it the staffers dealing with him? Who, for example, decided when a person was ready to do the Purification Rundown?
Stéphane appeared to suggest that it was a bit of both: the case supervisor decided, based on what he found in the student’s files; but the person himself usually knew when he was ready.
“The Bridge to Total Freedom passes through several stages,” said Stéphane. “The preclear [someone on the early stages of Scientology’s programme] knows when he has passed that stage.”
“He decides?” asked the judge.
“The course supervisor decides… He becomes more conscious and is ready to attest – with the agreement of the case supervisor.”
So if someone wanted to move on to the next stage, they could say so, said the judge. And could students stop when they wanted to?
Yes, said Stéphane: “I can give you an example,” he added. But the judge wanted to pursue his train of thought.
“If one can stop when one wants – and that is what people have been telling me since Monday – the common denominator of each is that it is the student who decides to buy a course or not; and it is the parishioner who decides to stop or not; to leave the church or not,” said the judge. “So thus far it is clear that one can enter and leave as one wants.”
“And if you put the same question, I would say the same thing,” said Stéphane.
But Judge Régimont had been looking at the case files.
“I found a list of students,” said the judge: a 1998 list that Stéphane had drawn up of “students to recover” (récuperer). He wanted to know more.
“There are the names, the level they are following – one is PTS/SP – I even see Monsieur G. here,” the judge added, referring to another defendant, Vincent G.
“So what does that mean?” the judge asked. “That makes me think of someone who wants to leave but you, … you are not going to let them leave like that.”
“Normally, these are people who have abandoned their courses without finishing them,” said Stéphane. “And our responsibility was to at least have them finish.”
But these people don’t have to finish their courses, the judge insisted. “They can get a refund, no? So what is this for? Scientology’s language is perhaps not the same as the French language, but when it is written here that someone must be ‘recovered’...?”
“So it is that the term – “ Stéphane began.
“– is badly put?” the judge broke in.
Stéphane tried again. If someone had not finished course, it was because they had not understood something, he said. That was a basic precept from Hubbard’s writings. “And so it is our duty to help them complete it. It is not as if we are phoning them every 25 minutes.”
Judge Régimont did not seem satisfied. What Stéphane was saying did not appear to square with what he had in his files.
The plaintiffs in the case were no longer here, he said. “But there are people who were disappointed,” he said. “Why did all these people say ‘They did not stop harassing me?’” the judge asked. “They have very detailed accounts of what happened. Even if you take these accounts with caution, there are a lot of people saying this.”
Judge Régimont remarked that he had already been rebuked for not understanding how the Scientology system worked – a reference to exchanges with some of the defence lawyers earlier that week – “...but when I see a document on ‘Students to Recover’ I see someone who has left who must be contacted to get him back”.
"Can you not just go through the door and leave?" the judge asked.
“No,” said Stéphane. “The aim is not to oblige people to stay in Scientology, but only to ensure that they have not left because they have not understood something or had a clash with another Scientologist – which has happened in the past.
“Our aim is that these people and all the people on the planet go up the Bridge,” he added.
“But why ‘recover’?” the judge asked. “In Scientology, even when one writes in French it is not French,” he added, increasingly exasperated.
“I don’t see why ‘recover’ is a problem,” said Stéphane. “A student is in a course, he is not there any more, we want to find out why.” And when students did come back and finished their course nine out of ten of them were happy they had, he added.
“So is there a procedure?” asked the judge. “Do you say, ‘We really have to know if they really want it, before you refund their money, before you let them leave’?”
“The idea is to see whether we have made a mistake,” said Stéphane.
“So it’s for you, not them,” said the judge.
“Nine-tenths of the time, when they come back, they are happy,” Stéphane replied. “If the student comes back they will be interviewed to find out why it didn’t work, and anything mistaken will be set right.
“But if the student wants to leave then they can,” he insisted. It was not as if they were holding a gun to their head. “If someone wants to leave they will leave in any case.”
And what about staff, the judge wanted to know. Stéphane explained that staff who wanted to leave would have to fill out a routing form, go through Ethics and speak to the chaplain.
But the judge was still chewing over the previous answer.
“Why do you always have to ensure that there has not been a mistake?” he asked. “If someone works for a bank….” he left the point hanging, but it was fairly clear: in any normal job, you just quit.
Stéphane tried again. “I will want to know if there is a problem with your work, or with your colleagues. It is important.” And that wasn’t just a Scientology thing, he added.
Judge Régimont moved on to another document. This one dated from 1991, when Stéphane had occupied a fairly senior executive position. He had written to a Mme K. about the fact that she had not routed out properly from a staff position.
If she did not come in to fill out the staff routing out form, he had written, she would be declared suppressive, as per Hubbard’s written directives on the matter. (2) The judge wanted to know more.
It was because she had not left staff correctly, said Stéphane. But the judge was not satisfied: if you want leave, he asked: “Can you not just go through the door and leave?”
“In the world of Scientology, there are certain stages to go through, which staff members know very well” said Stéphane. They had to go to see the Ethics Officer and apply Hubbard’s directives on these matters. “As I recall,” he added, “Mme K. came back and followed these steps and left and she was not declared suppressive.”
“So does that not mean that these people are constrained by the rules of Mr. Hubbard?” asked the judge. It was just like any workplace, said Stéphane. “When I worked at the printworks, I couldn’t just arrive when I wanted to.”
The judge tried another analogy: if a student signed up to study medicine at university and then, three months in, decided it was not for them, there would be no procedure to follow to quit.
“Certainly,” said Stéphane. “But that is not the case in the Church of Scientology, and experience has shown to Mr. Hubbard that two-thirds of these situations can be resolved.”
But he added: “If someone wants to leave, they can go. My son decided not to continue with services, and that was it.”
But that was your son, said the judge.
“Whether it is my son or not is neither here nor there,” Stéphane replied.
“For me, the most important rule is not to break the law,” Stéphane protested.
The judge tried another scenario. “Someone finishes their courses and decides that there are some good things but nevertheless decides to leave and do other things…
“I’m trying to understand here…” Judge Régimont was citing another document now: it appeared to be one of Hubbard’s policy letters listing high crimes, the kind of offences for which one could be cast out of the movement and declared suppressive, an enemy of the movement. This policy letter instructed Scientologists to cut off all contact with anyone asking for a refund.(3)
And what was a Suppressive Person anyway?
“A Suppressive Person is a person who suppresses the Church of Scientology, or who breaks the copyrighted materials to do something else (with them), which is one of the major crimes,” said Stéphane. “Because Mr. Hubbard developed a technology that works as he applied it but not when others adopt it,” he added.
“But what does all this mean?” the judge asked. The idea he was getting was that when someone wanted to move on from Scientology and so something else, that was not okay with Mr. Hubbard or with Scientology officials. “So you have to exclude them,” he said. “ It is a kind of social death of the person.”
Stéphane did not agree. He knew at least three people who had left Scientology in recent years, he said. “We have remained friends, and they are still ready to defend Scientology,” he added. “Certainly there are rules and laws, and like you, we require that they are respected.”
The prosecutor took a different view, the judge reminded him. His view was that Scientology’s rules, its laws, did not correspond with Belgian law.
The prosecutor saw your rules, your criminal code, as those of a society running parallel to Belgian society, but which by its rule and attitude violated Belgium’s laws. “Can we put it like that?” asked the judge.
No, said Stéphane: it wasn’t like that.
“Monsieur le Procureur says there are rules in Belgian society. You don’t follow them according to him.” And that was why he was in court, the judge continued – just as Scientology had its own courts.
“What is the difference between the rules defended by Monsieur le Procureur and the rules that you have in your society?” he asked.
I am part of a church, said Stéphane. And when Judge Régimont pressed him on the possibility that Scientology’s rules might break Belgian laws, he protested: “For me, the most important rule is not to break the law.”
“But your rules,” said the judge. “You don’t want to break them.”
“But the rules of Scientology are natural,” said Stéphane. “Arrive on time to courses.” It was an example that his fellow defendant, Vincent G., had offered in his account of Scientology ethics.
Fair enough, said the judge: he got that part. But, he added: “What I am trying to understand is that in the Church of Scientology you have rules regarding … people who want to leave, and those who don’t respect the rules are declared Suppressive Persons. Fine.
“But what is the difference between your need to have your rules respected, and the position of the prosecutor who says that you have not respected the rules of Belgian society and [that he] wants them respected?” the judge asked.
“We have an organisation that has rules. Fine. They have to be respected. But according to the prosecutor you have to respect the rules of Belgian society.”
So what, the judge asked, was the difference between what the prosecutor was doing, “...and what you have done to those people who wanted to leave?
“What is the difference?”
"I assure you, we have other documents," said the judge.
The judge did not sound angry so much as frustrated, exasperated: he was still trying to get an answer to what he clearly considered a key question.
There was a long pause.
“I would say that the process is similar,” said Stéphane at last. “The aim is to have Belgian law respected, and the aim is to have Scientology law respected. The way it is done is perhaps not the same,” he added.
The prosecutor had not charged them under Scientology’s rules but Belgium’s laws, said the judge. He was about to to go back to the document asking about “recovering” people, when one of the defence lawyers came to Stéphane’s rescue.
The first principle in Scientology was to respect the laws of the country, she said.
“They’ve all said that at least 10 times,” said the judge. “That’s fine.”
“Mr. Hubbard says that one of the rules of Scientology is that the laws of the country should be respected,” she added.(4)
Maître Quentin Wauters, another of the defence lawyers, stepped in. “You are asking him about general points,” he objected. “These same questions are not put to the others: why not?” His point, it seemed, was that the defendants were not being tackled on the specific charges against them individually, but questioned more generally, an objection that the defence had raised earlier.
The judge did not appreciate the intervention. Since Monday, he had been getting observations about how he was conducting the trial. First he had been criticised for asking questions that were too general: then again when his questions were too specific.
“So on what basis do you want me to put my questions?” he asked. “I am citing the documents and trying to answer all the objections put – which I don’t always do. So what do want me to do?”
Once again, Judge Régimont made it clear he wanted to understand how Scientology worked, how the defendants saw it: but still, he said, he was getting objections. So once again, he brandished the doomsday option. He could stop the questioning right there and then and move to straight legal arguments, he said.
Mtr. Wauters stood his ground. He could only speak for his two clients, Marc B. and Martin W., but some questions were better put to specific defendants, he said. He seemed to be suggesting that others might be better able to answer the kind of question the judge was putting to Stéphane J. (just as Stéphane himself had, on the first day, been asked to help with a point that a fellow defendant could not answer).
They went back and forth on that a little more, until the judge restated his position. He noted the objections from the defence, but his mission was to clear away some of the bushes in this forest so as to try to see more clearly. This case was particularly complicated and tangled and It was for the court to decide how best to proceed, he said.
So the objections were noted and if they wanted to put more questions they could. The defence lawyers resumed their seats.
Stéphane J. meanwhile, had had time to reflect on the judge’s questions. He wanted to point out that what the judge had been asking about was only part of what the ethics office did.
Agreed, said the judge: but it was part of the bigger picture.
“But if you only go on that – “ said Stéphane.
“– I assure you, we have other documents,” the judge replied.
(1) 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. And yes, there was a Catholic priest who was also a Scientologist: more on that, perhaps, after the judgment is handed down on March 11.
(2) Anyone declared a Suppressive Person in Scientology is cast out of the movement and Scientologists in good standing cannot have any contact with them.
In a December 7, 1976 Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter (HCOPL) “Leaving and Leaves” Hubbard specified that a staff member who failed to route out using the proper channels should be automatically declared suppressive. You can also find it listed in Hubbard's book, Introduction to Scientology Ethics (Chapter 7 in the "Supressive Acts" section).
(3) Hubbard’s injunction to declare a person suppressive for seeking a refund is listed in a December 23, 1968 policy letter (HCOPL), “Suppressive Acts: Suppression of Scientology and Scientologists". This policy letter forms part of Hubbard’s book Introduction to Scientology Ethics (Chapter 7, in the “Suppressive Acts” section).
(4) I think the defence lawyer who intervened here was Maître Ines Wouters. While she did not specify a text, she may have had in mind one of the precepts in Hubbard’s The Way to Happiness, which reads: “Don’t do anything illegal”.
Photo, La Coupole du Palais de Justice, Bruxelles by Michel Wal, Creative Commons licence