Scientology's Spiritual Mission
Having questioned Marc B. on his role in Scientology and tackled him with some of the more problematic cases in the prosecutor’s files, Judge Régimont changed tack.
“Did you take an interest in how the Church of Scientology Belgium ran itself?” (Marc B. had worked in Scientology’s human rights office, a separate body.)
He said only that he had been aware that the church had at one point had trouble paying its bills and so made some inquiries. But apart from his standing as a Scientology minister, he had no authority over the CoS Belgium, so he had just notified the appropriate people to get the situation resolved.
But he had carried out his own investigation to save the Church of Scientology Belgium, the judge asked? “Absolutely. It was my duty as a minister. If I hadn’t done that I couldn’t have looked myself in the mirror.”
The judge consulted his file. But he had also got involved in Mme V.’s case, he noted.
Judge Régimont had already raised this matter with two other defendants. This was a woman who, when she was in a state of extreme psychological distress, had been refused Scientology counselling. Scientologists had even tried to get her to sign a memo discharging them of any responsibility for a suicide attempt that she had made. (1)
Marc B. explained that the husband of Mme V. had come to him and told him about his wife’s problems. He had made it clear that if his wife’s problems were physical, then the first thing to do was to take her to a doctor.
The judge consulted his files: it was rather more than that, he said.
His duty as a minister, said Marc B., had been to warn the Church hierarchy that something was not right and that they should sort it out. He couldn’t remember the details of what he had said at the time, but it had been to the effect that the situation was prejudicial to the people involved and to the Church.
But what about that letter discharging Scientology of any responsibility for Madame V.’s suicide attempt, the judge asked? “And we found a document in which you say, ‘One never knows; that could be useful’.” Just how would it be useful?
“I don’t know,” said Marc B. “I don’t remember. Is that not a reference to the incident in Lyon?” he asked – a reference to the suicide of a French Scientologist, which led to a court case and the 1996 conviction of one senior Scientology official for manslaughter. (2) All he had been trying to do, said Marc B., was head off a situation like the one that had happened in France.
He had simply done his duty as a minister of Scientology to alert the relevant people to the situation developing in Brussels. “You won’t find anything else in this file,” he assured the judge.
The impression I have,” said the judge, “It’s really that the parishioners are children who need to be surrounded at all times, on all points.”
The judge asked about the role of the Medical Liaison Officer (MLO) in Scientology. He was assured that it was simply someone who liaised with the medical services, when required.
In answer to a direct question from the judge, he said that the MLO did not decide if someone really needed to go for medical treatment. (This was important because if the person concerned was not qualified, that might have been construed as the illegal practice of medicine, one of the offences listed in the indictment.)
He related an anecdote about the great job an MLO had done for him when he had been admitted to hospital, but the judge still did not seem entirely satisfied. If someone was ill, he said, he did not need an MLO to tell them that. And as far as taking care of the patient until they got to the hospital, was that not what ambulance workers did?
“It’s nothing to do with that,” said Marc B. “He [the MLO] is there to make sure everything goes well until the medical staff arrive.”
But the judge still wasn’t satisfied.
“Once again with these explanations, the impression I have, it’s really that the parishioners are children who need to be surrounded at all times, on all points.” When he went to the doctor, he remarked, he didn’t need an MLO.
Well, said Marc B. all he could say was that he had been happy to have one take care of him when the need arose. “Chapeau, merci!” (Hats off! Thank you!)
Judge Régimont turned to another file; another case in which Marc B. had intervened. He named the man in the question.
“I must have met him somewhere,” Marc B. replied, a little vaguely.
The judge tried to refresh his memory. “We have analysed his ethics file and we have found a document in which you intimate that he must present himself … because he has not paid his bill and if he does not, he will be declared Suppressive.”
Marc B.’s name was also on a “non-enturbulation” order; a Scientology document ordering him to stop making trouble.
Marc B. apologised if he was repeating himself, but “...we have been talking about money; we have not talked about one fundamental thing in the Church, which is the spirituality.”
He spoke again of his role in the Sea Org; of everything Scientology had done for him personally; of the importance of the spiritual side of the Church, how leaps in consciousness led to a higher spirituality. But the court did not seem interested in any of this.
Instead, he said, the court had cited a document underlining the need for Scientology orgs to make money. But he said, “That is just one page from 10,000 pages of documents, from administrative documents.”
It was something that was just one part of an ensemble, he said, but “...the overall aim is to ensure that people progress spiritually.” Hubbard had created his administrative system to that end only, he insisted. This passage that the judge had cited on selling was just one document among thousands.
“But it says you have to sell, sell, sell!” said the judge
Earlier, Judge Régimont had quoted another defendant, Stéphane J., with a 1983 policy letter in which Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote.
The only reason orgs exist is TO SELL AND DELIVER MATERIALS AND SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC AND GET IN PUBLIC TO SELL AND DELIVER TO. THE OBJECT IS TOTALLY FREED BEINGS! (3)
“But it says you have to sell, sell, sell!” said the judge. It might be an exceptional page from Hubbard’s oeuvre, he remarked: “But it means what it means.”
The question then, was why Hubbard had written it, said Marc B. “Scientologists feel they are on a mission to advance people’s spiritual progress. If we don’t have money, we can’t pay for our excellent lawyers, pay our bills, etc – and help people up the Bridge [Scientology’s spiritual Bridge to Total Freedom].
“But if you focus on the money you completely miss the main point.”
Judge Régimont had his clerk make a formal note of that.
“And it is the same for the IAS,” added Marc, referring to the International Association of Scientologists. More than once already during the trial, the judge had noted it took in remarkable sums of money from its members. (4) But the IAS, Marc B. argued, funded Scientology’s social programmes around the world.
The judge had that formally noted too.
Quentin Wauters, Marc B.’s lawyer, stepped in with a question: “If Scientology was subsidised, would you have to sell books?” he asked, clearly an allusion to the fact that, unlike some more mainstream churches in Belgium, Scientology received no state funding.
Obviously, said Marc B., if they were publicly subsidized at the right level, they wouldn’t have to sell them.
And, Maître Wauters continued, did the International Association of Scientologists accept non-Scientologists as members? Yes, of course, his client replied – and indeed there were some.
And as someone who himself was teaching on a comparative religion course, could he tell the court if there were other religions that got involved in the private lives of their members?
Certainly, Marc B. replied: there was Canon law in Catholicism and both Buddhism and Islam had their equivalents. “The behaviour of people in different people is surrounded by canons.”
From that, Judge Régimont concluded that the ethics code set out by Church founder Hubbard played that canonical role in Scientology.
His questioning over, Marc B. returned to his place on the front bench of the court. As soon as the judge had adjourned the day’s hearings, several of his fellow defendants came over to congratulate him.
* 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.
Picture: Sunset at Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal, by Alvesgaspar, published under a GNU Free Documentation License
(2) In 1988, in Lyon, southeast France, Scientologist Patrice Vic had jumped to his death from his block of flats, unable to cope with the pressure to borrow more money for the next set of Scientology courses. In 1996, the head of the Lyon org was convicted of manslaughter (homicide involontaire) for having contributed to Vic’s suicide. For more on this, see Lucy Morgan’s February 8, 1998 report for the St. Petersburg Times: “Scientology got blame for French suicide”.
(3) From “The Reason for Orgs”, a Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter dated January 31, 1983. For more details, see “Sell and deliver” from earlier in the coverage.
(4) See for example, “The IAS: funding Scientology’s good works”, from earlier in the coverage.