Thursday, 3 September 2009

19 The True Believers

More witnesses stepped forward to speak up for the defendants – and denounce what they said was French persecution of their religion.
The final defence witnesses for the defendants were not the experts, whose testimony had not always been what they had hoped for, but their fellow Scientologists.

A succession of true believers stepped forward to speak up for the defendants and to bear witness to all that Scientology had done for their lives.

There was no mention here of hard-sell tactics or any of the undue pressure that the plaintiffs had complained about: for these witnesses, the defendants were motivated only by their desire to help people.

Several of those who appeared also felt moved to defend Scientology from the persecution they said it was suffering in France, with one witness comparing it with the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

And as she had been doing for several days already Judge Sophie-Hélène Château was repeatedly obliged to point out that their beliefs were not on trial.

“I am here to speak for Monsieur Valli,” said Sean Sheahan. “He has always been straight with me.” Jean-François Valli was one of the defendants in the Paris: he was fighting charges of organised fraud against Aude-Claire Malton.

Speaking perfect French, Irish expatriate Sheahan explained how he had first met Valli through his work at Scientology’s Paris centre. “He has become a friend,” he added.

For Sheahan, it was only natural that he come forward to speak for Valli. “I have the impression that my religion is being called into question and I can’t stay silent.”

Sheahen told the court he had discovered Scientology as a young man in Ireland after a reading a book on it. He found that it worked and wanted to know more.

“Two years later, I arrived in France and there was a friend of a friend who one evening asked me if I knew Scientology. He invited me to the Church at Rue Legendre.

“Back then, I didn’t have a lot of time,” he said. But he had a quick look around just the same. He had only met Valli on the second or third time he visited, he said – and what struck him about Valli was he actually listened to him.

“I was too busy at first,” he said, and still learning French. “So I said, ‘I will speak to you when I am ready.’”

In the meantime, he found that the Scientology in Paris was much the same as it had been in Dublin. He dropped in at the centre two or three times, to see friends or to attend a concert.

It was 18 months, perhaps two years later, before he went back to Valli, he said.

“So after this period I called M. Valli to say that there was a course that interested me,” he said: a course in auditing, Scientology’s version of counselling, or therapy. “I did it and I liked it.”

Valli even put him in touch with an auditor who spoke English, he said.

“So I got to know M. Valli and he was always very light, very ‘soft’. He helped me by directing me towards what I wanted to do,” he said. Sheahan stressed the “I”.

“He was there for me when I needed him,” he said. “It was me who called him when I needed something.”

Sheahan explained that religious instruction had been part of his training as a teacher in Ireland, because that was something they taught children in Irish schools. He had studied all the major world religions, adding: “Doing that, I put a lot of questions to myself on religion.”

For more than 20 years he had lived in a country divided by sectarian violence: for while he grew up in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland, people were blowing each other up.

“I know what it is. I saw it with my own eyes. A country like that cannot progress,” he said.

And he added: “I feel in France we are seeing the same thing… when you are part of a religious minority.”

From being a Catholic he had become a Scientologist, said Sheahan: but he felt that Scientologists in France were experiencing the same kinds of problems he had seen back in Ireland.

“I am proud to be a Scientologist,” said Sheahan. “I am proud to be here. I am proud to be in the country of human rights.”

Judge Sophie-Hélène Château pointed out that the court was judging possible criminal offences, “not the question of religion.”

No pressure from Valli

In answer to her questions, he confirmed that he had taken the personality test: but that had been back in Ireland more than 20 years ago, just after having entered Scientology.

“I am a teacher,” he said. “I am used to tests.” And while he had found it an interesting exercise, for him it had not been a determining factor.

“It is a tool, like any other,” he said. In all his time as a Scientologist he had taken it perhaps five times.

Asked how much he had spent on Scientology over the years, he reckoned at about 25-30,000 euros over a 20-year period.

At the beginning, he had not had much money: but that had not prevented him from being part of the Church, he said. “Anyone can be a Scientologist.”

He had started with a small course that had not cost much. “Even when I spent a few years not doing Scientology, I was still a Scientologist,” he added.

And once he did have the money he paid for the courses he wanted, he said.

He had done the Purification Rundown, he said; and yes, he did own an e-meter. “I have two: I bought the first when I needed it to do the course. When I decided to continue my spiritual path, I needed an e-meter.”

He got the second one three years later, he said. But he saw nothing unusual in that, he said. “I have two bikes.” The second one was there in case the first ever broke down, he said.

Valli’s lawyer, Maître Benmayor, asked him if her client had ever insisted on selling him courses when he did not have the money.

“Absolutely not,” said Sheahan. “In fact, it is what I appreciated in Valli.”

Going back to when they first met, when he had little money and his French was limited, Sheahan recalled: “I explained to him clearly that that was not the time, and he said, ‘Let me know when you do (have time)’ and it was me who called him when I was ready.”

Businessman Guy Bergeaud, 64, also appeared as a character witness for Valli.

“I decided to speak for Jean-François Valli mainly because my relations with him since 2000 and all the advice that he has given me correspond in no way with what I have read and heard” concerning the trial, he said.

“He was my adviser in my spiritual evolution and each time I finished a stage in my progress, I wanted to meet him for advice,” said Bergeaud.

Valli, he said, was someone was always there when you needed him; he was someone of integrity, someone who had great human qualities.

“Everything I hear, everything I see, does not correspond with what I know of Scientology,” presumably referring to what he had read of the trial coverage.

Born into a Catholic family, Bergeaud said he had become a Scientologist 26 years ago, in 1983.

Before he found Scientology, said Bergeaud, he had backpacked around the world and held senior positions with a major U.S. company.

“I was happy but I had a certain number of questions in my personal and professional life, to get a little more sense of my life.”

It was during a business trip to England that he overheard a conversation while on a train journey. It intrigued him enough to stop his work and join in.

It turned out to be about Dianetics and Scientology. “It corresponded with my point of view on life and humanity,” he said.

The people had been talking with gave him an address, but it was a year before he got around to following it up.

“One evening I decided to go,” he said – and that was when his life was changed. Scientology quickly transformed not just his personal life, his life with his family, but his professional life too. “It was very pleasant,” he recalled.

Scientology helped him improve his communications skills, to gain in confidence – and his bosses appreciated the difference, asking him to take on more responsibility, he said.

“Ordinary people are afraid of us”

Scientology had helped him make sense of the social injustice across the world: in Asia and in South America. “Each time I think to myself, ‘There is such misery, can we do something?’”

Scientologists’ devotion to these questions was one of the reasons he had been drawn to the movement. “That was one of my motivations to join this extremely courageous group.”

But there were other reasons, he said: “I found the answers to my spiritual questions.”

Bergeaud turned to what he said were the concerted attacks on his church, speaking of defamation and discrimination.

He recalled an incident when he was studying at one of Scientology’s study centres, when a bomb had gone off nearby, “less than 20 metres (yards) from where I was.

“It was directed at the Church of Scientology and its members, but directly or indirectly I was the target of the attack and I immediately understood that certain people want my church to disappear. That only reinforced my conviction.”

The second personal experience he had of attacks against Scientology was when his own business was cited in a parliamentary report on cults.[1]

Not all of his business collaborators had taken it well and in the end the resulting publicity had lost him business.

On one occasion, he had been on the point of signing a contract with a major international company, which should have been just a formality, he said. Then suddenly he was being asked to sign a document to the effect that no one in his company had ever read Dianetics or was a Scientologist.

“I couldn’t answer this question because I have no authority to know the religions of my collaborators.” This was clearly a case of discrimination, he said.

And on another occasion a Finnish company cancelled a seminar he had been due to give when they learned that he was a Scientologist.

“I am angry about the stigma… Ordinary people are afraid of us,” he said.

“I really disagree with what has happened in France, my country, which I love: the country of human rights… The rights of man are violated and I am the best example today.”

But he added: “My dream is that in a few years, things will get back to normal.”

Again, Judge Château pointed out that it was not the job of the court to judge whether or not Scientology was a religion. That was not the debate. The court’s role was to determine if crimes had been committed.

“We are in the country of human rights,” she assured him.

In answer to her questions, he confirmed that he had taken the personality test – but not right at the beginning of his time in the movement.

During his 26 years in Scientology he had taken it perhaps 15 times, and he had found it useful. “It is simply a confirmation of progress. It is one of the tools of Scientology that helps. I was very happy to have that tool.”

And of his progress through Scientology, he said: “A Scientologist has only one desire and that is to continue. When you progress, you want to progress a lot,” he added with a smile.

Asked how much he had spent in his 26 years in Scientology, he reckoned about 200,000 euros.

Did he have an e-meter, asked the judge? Yes, he had two. He had bought one when he had to audit himself.[2]

And when he had done the Purification Rundown, back in 1989, he had been able to keep working throughout the programme, he said, confirming earlier testimony from defence witness Dr. David Root.

During his Purification Rundown, he said, a doctor had been on hand.

But from what the court had already heard, that was not something that normally happened at Scientology centres.

Scientology “answered certain of my questions”

Dr. Nicolas Franceschetti, appeared to speak for his friend the defendant Alain Rosenberg, the founder and former executive director of the Celebrity Centre.

Franceschetti, an ophthalmologist based in Switzerland, said he had first met him in 1994 when he had come to Paris for professional training.

“I took a few courses and it is there that I got to know him and appreciate his way of taking care of people,” he said.

With Rosenberg making occasional visits to Switzerland to give conferences, they were able to stay in touch, he said. Franceschetti described how impressed he was with Rosenberg’s charisma and his great knowledge of the works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Although his parents were Scientologists, Franceschetti said neither he nor his brothers had been pushed into the movement. He had a Catholic education and studied philosophy when he was young. It was only when he was in his mid-20s that he had turned towards Scientology.

“What it brought me personally was a certain spiritual path that answered certain of my questions,” he said. He felt more balanced as a result and better able to reach out to people.

“For me, medicine is a technical profession, but there is a human element and I believe Scientology helped me with that. I get on very well with people of a different religious and philosophical persuasion,” he added.

Judge Château asked him about the Scientology courses he had studied in Paris and Franceschetti said he had spent about six months at the Celebrity Centre studying two or three hours in the evening.

And did he have an e-meter? He had two, “because my wife started to use it.” Every two years or so, they would be sent to the United States for maintenance at a cost of about two hundred dollars.

And yes, he said: he had done the Purification Rundown and it had passed off well.

He confirmed too, that he had taken the personality test: five or six times.

And had it helped, asked Judge Château? “It is an indication. I can’t say it is fundamental,” said Franceschetti.

The judge did not seem entirely convinced: it is not fundamental, but you did it several times, she noted.
[1] Les Sectes et l’Argent (Cults and Money) presented to France’s National Assembly in June 1999 (the reference to Bergeaud appears on page 141). The report’s rapporteur was deputy Jean-Pierre Brard, who had testified to the court the previous day.
[2] Solo auditing is part of the secret, upper levels of the Scientology, known as the Operating Thetan levels.

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