Monday 7 September 2009

20 Irreconcilable Differences

As more Scientologists spoke up for the defendants and their own beliefs, the gulf between their vision of accused and that of the plaintiffs grew ever wider.

As the testimony of the character witnesses continued, predictably enough, an unbridgeable gulf opened up between their accounts and those of the plaintiffs.

For their fellow Scientologists, the defendants were not the relentless hard-sell merchants described by the former members who believed they had been swindled.

They were on the contrary dedicated believers whose only crime had been to want to spread the benefits of their religion.

Another point where the two sides were irreconcilable was on the role and significance of the personality test.

For the defence witnesses, the test was more or less interesting, more or less useful, but certainly not what had brought them into the movement.

According to the indictment however, it was a key element in the fraud: for the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton, it had been the hook that had drawn her in.

And earlier that week, former member turned critic Roger Gonnet, had supported her case.

Gonnet, a witness for the plaintiffs, had argued that the test was a fundamental part of Scientology’s arsenal. It was rigged, he said, to produce maximum insecurity in a potential client so as to increase the chances of signing up a newcomer for a course.

On this matter in particular, the court had its work cut out for it. There had already been plenty of expert evidence on the Purification Rundown and the e-meter.

So far as the personality test was concerned however, the president of the court Judge Sophie-Hélène Château and the two assistant judges sitting with her had their work cut out for them.

For although the investigating magistrate had commissioned reports on the personality test by two court-approved specialists, their work had been ruled inadmissible because a procedural error: one of the experts had forgotten to date a document.

There was one other striking discrepancy between the defence witnesses’ experience of Scientology and that of the plaintiffs: this one involved the sums of money at stake.

In court, as one Scientologist after another told the court how much they had spent on the movement, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Maître Olivier Morice and Catherine Picard, the president of the anti-cult group UNADFI, regularly exchanged knowing smiles.

In one whispered exchange, they even correctly guessed the amount concerned before the witness had answered.

Given the time these witnesses had spent in the movement, the figures they were citing were relatively modest set against the rate of spending recorded by the plaintiffs.

Aude-Claire Malton and former plaintiff Eric Aubry had both spent considerable sums during their brief brushes with Scientology.

Malton had spent the equivalent of 21,000 euros over a period of four months, getting herself heavily into debt in the process; Aubry had spent nearly 50,000 euros over a period of 19 months.

The Scientologists testifying on behalf of their colleagues however had managed to keep their spending to a much more reasonable yearly average.

Cyprien Katazaris, the concert pianist, said he had spent 85,000 euros over 30 years; a little over 2,500 euros a year. He explained that his career had kept him too busy to do as much as he would have liked in Scientology.

The teacher Sean Sheahan had reckoned at about 25,000 to 30,000 euros over a 30-year period: he had not been earning much to begin with, he said – and had never been put under pressure to buy what he did not want.

Businessman Guy Bergeaud reckoned on about 200,000 euros over 26 years: a little over 7,500 a year. This was substantial, but still nowhere near the plaintiffs’ rate of spending.

Quite what the court would make of this was anybody’s guess. In the meantime, the defence witnesses continued give their evidence.

“I am very proud to be in this church”

Cyrille Pincanon, appeared as a character witness for Didier Michaux, one of Scientology’s salesmen, who was facing a charge of organised fraud.

Pincanon, 30, who described himself as a commercial director with a construction firm, said he had been a Scientologist for three years, which was also how long he had known Michaux.

“He is someone who is always ready to listen,” he said. “He gives me advice. He knows the writings of Hubbard.”

Pincanon said he had heard about Scientology through a client, and after having watched a DVD on Dianetics he had decided to come up to Paris and find out more.

“I have progressed spiritually,” he said. I am very proud to be in this church.”

He appreciated Scientology’s emphasis on human rights and its anti-drug message, he said: “Scientology has given me a lot of answers.”

Judge Château once again asked about the personality test, and he replied that yes, he had done it three of four times and found it useful, interesting. “I asked to do it. I was interested,” he said.

He had also enjoyed the Purification Rundown, he said. And he and his wife had both owned an e-meter.

He confirmed too that he had paid for his courses in advance, though exactly how much he was not sure. “I can’t tell you in detail but I think I am okay for this year.” That was nearly seven months’ worth, at least.

But why had he chosen to come from the south of France to study Scientology in Paris, asked the judge? Because of Michaux, said Pincanon: “He is a very good adviser.”

And he dismissed any suggestion that Michaux might have harassed him to buy courses.

“I call M. Michaux more often than he calls me,” he said. If ever he came across something in Hubbard’s writings he did not understand, he would call Michaux.

Pincanon said he was earning a good living with Genibat, a company that renovated buildings: enough to be able to come to Paris every weekend to study at the centre.

He had no problem spending money on Scientology because before that he had spent it on racing cars and motorbikes.

“I stopped because I couldn’t do both,” he said: “It was more a question of time.”

Michaux “fundamentally honest”

“I am here to speak for M. Michaux, who I have known for a long time and who I admire,” said Cathy Steinberg, 54.

“A real Scientologist is someone who knows who he is and who knows where he is going in life; who helps people and who is incapable of doing anything dishonest.”

Steinberg was speaking up for Didier Michaux, Scientology’s star salesman in France, who according to former plaintiff Eric Aubry had harassed him day and night to buy the next course.

But this was not the man Steinberg knew.

“When he asks how I am, he really means it,” she said of Michaux. “And he has been the same way with a lot of people. I sincerely think that he is someone who is fundamentally honest.

“I was born into a Jewish family. They knew the camps.” And she had been raised to defend her religion, she added. “I am not saying I am in physical danger but I do feel I am being spiritually attacked.”

Steinberg said she had felt lost when she was younger – until she found Scientology.

“I understood what my aims were. I became more and more creative, more and more responsive to my family and the people around me… I didn’t realise how much knowledge and fulfilment I would get from Scientology.”

In answer to a question from Judge Sophie-Hélène Château she said he had taken the personality test two or three times and she had found it useful: it corresponded with what she actually felt about herself.

But the last time she had taken it had been about 10 years ago.

Yes, she said, she did have an e-meter, but it was an old one and she didn’t use it much.

Steinberg, who said she ran her own business, said that in her 34-odd years in Scientology, she had spent between 35,000 and 40,000 euros.

She considered Michaux as a friend, and still bought books from him.

And she expressed her contempt for an earlier witness, former Scientologist Roger Gonnet who had spoken the day before. She had time to say he had been convicted several times in the courts before the judge intervened to say that this was not the business of the court.

E-meter “is not a Gameboy for a child at school”

Jean-Claude Douthe, a 51-year-old engineer who ran his own business, also spoke up for Michaux.

“I agreed to come, first to speak for him, but also to speak as a member of the church,” he said. He had met Michaux when he had first joined Scientology in 1996, he said – and Michaux was someone who had always been ready to listen to him.

“As an engineer, I like to understand things, so when we were eating I liked to put questions to him. I appreciated the quality of his welcome, his quality of listening and his ability to find the answers to my questions.”

He believed in Scientology, he said, because he believed in a world without crime, madness or war. “It is important for me that the truth is known,” he said.

“I don’t know much about the affair you are examining today,” he said. But he had read an article in the press that had suggested that the e-meter was being sold at 10 times its true value.

“As an engineer,” he said, “I don’t agree.” The e-meter was a sophisticated electronic device with high-quality components, he said: “It is not a Gameboy for a child at school.”

He described how they used quality materials to guarantee that the machine worked to a high standard. “This is an exceptional device from a technical point of view. I use this device for my spiritual betterment and without it I wouldn’t have made such progress.”

Judge Château asked him what he thought about the price of the machine, which even Scientology’s two technical experts had thought excessive.

Douthe made it clear he had no problem with the price – but when he started to talk about the gold and silver filaments used inside the machine, the judge intervened: how could he possibly know, she asked?

“Because I work in the industry and that is what people need,” he said.

Overall, Douthe reckoned he had spent 70,000 euros on Scientology training in his 13 years in the movement, much of it on training to be an auditor, one of the movement’s counsellors.

And he too had done the personality test. Recalling the first time he got his test results, he said: “What is amusing for me is I think I know myself quite well. I though, ‘That is interesting, that corresponds with what I think about myself.’”

Judge Château asked him about the positive and negative points on the graph of the test result.

“There were points that were stronger than others, there were points that were weaker than others,” Douthe recalled. “We didn’t try to discuss every point, but it seemed to me that it resembled me.”

Having got his results and asked a few questions, he went home with a copy of the book Dianetics and having finished it a couple of days later was back for more.

Oliver Morice, lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked him how long it had taken for Scientology to get back to him with the result of his personality test: they had contacted him the day after he filled it in, he said.

Like Pincanon , he had not yet done all the training he had paid for, but found nothing unusual in paying in advance: he had done the same with his Encyclopedia Universalis, he said – and he still hadn’t finished that.

Prompted a little later by the defence, he accepted the analogy these advance payments were a bit like taking out a student loan to pay for one’s studies.

He also made it clear that when he had got involved in Scientology he had not been going through any crisis in his life: he had, on the contrary, been doing very well for himself.

The “sincerity of Jacquart’s spiritual path”

Maryvonne Legoux appeared as a character witness for Sabine Jacquart, former president of the Paris Celebrity Centre.

Much of her testimony however was about what she said was the discrimination she personally had suffered as a Scientologist.

“I wanted to support Mme Jacquart, who I have known for 20 years, and the truth of her faith,” said Legoux.

Legoux spoke of Jacquart’s devotion to Scientology and of how difficult it was to be a Scientologist – something she herself knew, she said, as she had been a member for 30 years.

And she told how she had been repeatedly harassed at work and on at least one occasion and forced out of her job as a librarian because of the fact that she was a Scientologist.

Legoux said she had won an administrative court decision in 2007 that confirming she had been the victim of discrimination.

And she blamed her brothers and a branch of France’s anti-cult group ADFI for having turned the rest of her family against her because of her allegiance to the movement.[1]

Once again, Judge Sophie-Hélène Château intervened to remind those present of the job at hand.

“There has never been any question of judging Scientology as a religion: we are here to see if certain crimes have been committed,” she said. “It is not about questioning your religion, it is not at all the debate.”

In answer to questions from the judge, Legoux explained that she had been a Scientologist since 1978, joining in Paris after a friend introduced her to it.

She had taken the personality test a few times, but not when she first joined; she and her husband had two e-meters in the house.

Questioned further about the discrimination, she said: “Some colleagues supported me and were outraged at what was happening.”

But those who had lined up against her had not always been open about why they were so hostile. “They are not going to say they won’t work with me because of my religion,” she said.

Morice, who as well as representing the plaintiffs in this case has in the past represented UNADFI, the organisation she was denouncing, wanted to know if she had taken legal action against the group.

No, she said: but she knew that they had effectively cut her off from her family.

Jacquart’s lawyer, Maître Yann Streiff, asked Legoux her view of his client’s sincerity.

“I have no doubt about the sincerity of her spiritual path,” she said.
[1] ADFI, Association pour la Défense de la Famille et L’Individu (Association for the Defence of the Family and the Individual), a network of branches are active across France and federated in a national union, known as UNADFI.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate the space you have devoted to the Scientologists, it is good for us to hear their voices and make our own judgments.

    Continue for great justice!