Judge Yves Régimont had already questioned former president of the Church Stéphane J.* on why it appeared to be so difficult to leave Scientology and on the movement’s sales tactics.
Now he asked him about the e-meter (or electropsychometer), the device used in Scientology’s counselling sessions, to measure and evaluate people’s reactions.
The prices he had heard cited for the devices – in the thousands of euros – still seem to bother him.
Stéphane explained that the price of each model was a reflection of how precise, how accurate it was. “With a Mark V meter you can audit up to Clear, and if you want to go further you have to have a Mark VI,” he added.
It was like the difference between a Ferrari and a Volkswagen Beetle he said; one was custom-built for an individual and the other was mass-produced for the general public.
The judge consulted some of the expert reports on the e-meter submitted to the court. One, at least, had dismissed it as little more than a basic device for measuring electrical resistance. The implication seemed to be that there was little justification for the price tag.
Stéphane was not having any of that. The e-meter was a precision device for which Scientology held the patent and which no one else could build, he said: and it was made to the strict specifications of the Church.
The judge was puzzled when Stéphane confirmed that one could solo-audit: how could an auditor audit himself, he wanted to know? How did he answer the questions he was himself asking? Stéphane could not say: that level of auditing was not done in Belgium.
But he was clear on this point: “Anyone who is a Scientologist and wants to go up the Bridge … will at some point need an e-meter to audit themselves.”
Stéphane acknowledged that he had not been earning much as a staffer: so how, the judge wanted to know, had he been able to afford the substantial payments he had made for an e-meter and for membership of the International Association of Scientologists (the IAS)?
Stéphane repeated what he had said earlier about his wife having a job, but he also confirmed that they had got themselves heavily into debt, something to which the judge had referred earlier.
In all, they had ended up one million Belgian francs (nearly 100,000 euros) in the red. And of that sum, he had paid 400,000 Belgian francs to the International Association of Scientologists. (Judge Régimont had already questioned defendants on why the IAS got so much money.) (1)
The judge reviewed the sums of money he had spent on Scientology over the years. “How did you finance that?” he asked. “Because what is striking here … is the way one invests in one’s spiritual programme; but there is a link between the spiritual programmes and the money spent.”
Did there not come a point when you said “Stop”?
“That is one of the reasons I left the Church,” said Stéphane, referring to his decision to quit staff. “Because I was in an impossible position and I had to do something about it.” But the massive debts he had run up were not due to his 15 years in Scientology, he said, but because his wife had lost her job.
One of Stéphane’s staff duties had actually been selling IAS membership to other Scientologists. Judge Régimont had already noted that Stéphane was on something called the Honor Roll, which he took to mean he had contributed a lot of money to the Church. Stéphane said it wasn’t necessarily about how much money he had given. (2) Pressed by the judge however, he elaborated.
“When I convince someone to make a donation I receive a commission, and effectively, it often happened that I would pay it to the IAS, because my aim was not to make money but to help the IAS.”
“You picked a strange way to settle the conflict,” the judge remarked.
Now the judge returned to more sensitive matters.
He wanted to know more about a case he had already discussed with another defendant, Bernadette P; that of Mme V., a woman in severe distress who had been refused Scientology services by the Church.
The judge had been struck by the fact that Bernadette had pressed Mme V. for a signed statement to the effect that her attempted suicide had had nothing to do with Scientology.
All this had happened in 1997, when Stéphane had been president of the Church of Scientology Belgium. He confirmed that he had been aware of the case at the time.
“You knew that she was in bad shape?” the judge asked.
“But not to that point,” Stéphane replied.
The judge pressed him on Bernadette P.’s bid to get the letter from Mme V. clearing Scientology of any role in her suicide attempt.
"What was the point of that document?” the judge asked, referring to the suicide memo that Bernadette P. had tried to obtain.
“It was to protect the Church if someone made a suicide attempt,” said Stéphane. It was normal to get such a document to protect the Church, he added.
So had there been other such cases?
There had been cases of Scientologists who had made suicide attempts before they had joined the Church, Stéphane replied.
“People who attempted suicide before entering Scientology? You had them sign a document to say that it was nothing to do with that?” The judge did not sound convinced.
He turned to another case, a Monsieur C. who had had a dispute with a Scientologist: he had taken a loan and not respected the repayment terms.
Stéphane had got involved even though Monsieur C. had already left the Church. As president of the Church, he had written to him to say that he had a debt to pay off first – and that he had to pay by a certain date or he would be “handled”.
“You picked a strange way to settle the conflict, if I may say so,” the judge remarked. (And, he added later, coming from someone who could not manage his own debts, that was a bit rich.)
Stéphane tried to explain. If his memory was correct, he said, it was the Church chaplain who had got involved in that dispute – he did not think he had signed the document to which the judge was referring. But in any case, they had simply applied Scientology’s ethics code to get the person concerned to meet his financial obligations.
“He changed his attitude and in the end he disappeared and we never heard any more from him.”
What bothered Judge Régimont however was that the Church had felt the need to get involved at all. It wasn’t just the question of the debt, he said. The man's wife blamed Scientology for having got him into this mess in the first place.
“He was declared PTS – a Potential Trouble Source – because his wife had said she would divorce him if he did not leave Scientology,” the judge pointed out. “One gets the impression that anything that can hurt the image of Scientology, then – no? That is not it?”
“I don’t see what is wrong with that,” Stéphane protested. “Monsieur C. gave a very bad image of Scientology,” he said.
He could have understood the judge’s objecting if they had been pressing him to get money back for Scientology, but this was money owed to one of their parishioners, he added. And this was someone who had borrowed money for uses totally outside the Church of Scientology, he added.
“This was interference in people’s private life,” Judge Régimont objected. And it was not as if this was the only such example, he added.
The judge was just getting started.
* 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 (due on March 11). It seems reasonable to respect that practice.
(2) Stéphane was right when he said that the Honor Roll was not necessarily about how much money one paid: it can also be a reflection of how many members he recruited to the IAS. In Scientology publications, Stéphane’s name is listed on the Senior Honor Roll in an official Scientology publication. That means he recruited 100 new members for the IAS or “contributed to IAS expansion in some stellar fashion”.
Photo, Bancs du Palais de Justice de Bruxelles by Mûtty, published under a Creative Commons licence.