"In a small Normandy village, surrounded by wheat fields, Gwen Le Berre keeps a Scientology "electrometer" machine in his bedroom. He opens the large green briefcase and peers at the machine inside. It looks like a lie-detector from an old TV cop show and Le Berre doesn't really understand how it works – he just knows it's a key piece of kit for the Church of Scientology.
Le Berre, 21, keeps the machine as a memento of his mother's life. Four days before Christmas 2006, Gloria Lopez, a 47-year-old secretary, tidied her kitchen, hung out her washing, left her dull, suburban apartment overlooking the railway in Colombes, west of Paris, and walked the 30 metres out on to the tracks. She stood with her arms outstretched, smiling at the driver of the oncoming commuter train. He couldn't stop in time."
(The Guardian, link to the left)
A recent story in the guardian outlines the trials and tribulations relating to scientology in France, with an outcome expected in October.
According LeBerre, his mother became depressed after her divorce to her father, and soon joined scientology after meeting some adherents. the group quickly became "her life", and she left her two children behind to move closer to the scientology center in France.
Due to see her mother just two days after the tragic suicide, Gwen LeBerre and his sister, Mathilde, were convinced that she would have left a suicide note; a goodbye; and went to the apartment to find one. Instead, they found shelves and stacks of scientology books and DVD's.
Instead of a note, they "found a box of documents in which she had handwritten a series of punishing self-appraisals as part of her membership of the Church of Scientology. She wrote of how she owed money to the organisation for courses, was struggling to advance up the path to spiritual enlightenment, really wanted to succeed as a Scientologist, and regretted every mistake in her life. "She even wrote that she had surfed the internet for two minutes beyond her allocated lunch break at work," Gwen says."
The family was surprised at the lack of bills and normal household financial documents in the "flat" (Apartment, for us American folks), and wondered if they were removed by the regular scientology visitors or logers.
According to legal filings, the surviving family members decided to file a legal complaint for "its role in her death. They estimate that in around 10 years as a Scientologist, Lopez spent between €200,000 and €250,000 on courses and books – despite her secretary's salary, which was €2,000 a month at the time of her death. Her family also claim that she was counselled by Scientology financial advisers and decided to sell a property she had inherited in Spain, freeing up capital for more courses. "They stole my mother," Gwen says. "I don't feel I knew my mother apart from in her role as a Scientologist."
But this isn't the first of the legal troubles for scientology in France, but it is, perhaps, the most devastating, with the potential to convict scientology itself as an organization in France (a move also made in Canada, where scientology is the only non-profit organization to be convicted as an entity in Canada).
Currently, there is an ongoing investigation into an alleged 2008 kidnapping case in which 48 year old Frenchwoman Martine Boublil is said to have been found being held against her will, half naked, on a vermin-infested mattress in a house in Sardinia. She filed a complaint saying that her brother – an ex-doctor and prominent Scientologist – had kidnapped her and attempted to treat her psychological problems himself.
According to the Guardian:
"But this May the most serious fraud trial that the Church of Scientology has faced anywhere in the world opened in Paris. Not only were six important French Scientologists placed in the dock for organised fraud and illegally practising as pharmacists – for selling vitamins classed as medication in France – but, for the first time, the Church itself was accused of organised fraud. In a historic move, the state prosecutor requested that the judges dismantle and dissolve Paris's two flagship Scientology premises: the Celebrity Centre and its bookshop in the capital. The verdict is due at the end of October, and the world is watching. If the Paris centres are shut, it will limit Scientology's operations in France and may have implications elsewhere.
In May, Aude-Claire Malton, a former hotel housekeeper, took the stand against the Church of Scientology at the Palais de Justice in Paris. She described how, depressed after a relationship failed, she met a group of Scientologists at a Metro exit and filled in their personality test questionnaire. A few days later, the Church of Scientology called her to fix an appointment at the Celebrity Centre. "They told me I was in a very uneven state, and that they could help me by giving me some courses." The first course cost €20, but immediately afterwards she was offered a "package" of several sessions for €4,800. She emptied several savings accounts, her life insurance policy, and took out a loan to pay for more courses on the advice of her Scientology personal financial adviser.
Asked by the judge how she could have spent so much, she said: "You have to understand, you're in the brouhaha of the Scientology Centre where everyone repeats to you: 'You must continue, you're making progress, you're going to be able to better yourself, all this is for you.' "
The verdict in October will be an important one for scientology, where they face fines of up to 4M and heftly fines against the alleged offenders. In addition, it may very well result in the dissolution of some of scientology's major branches in France and abroad.
According to former scientologist (of 15 years) and accomplished musician Alain Stoffen, author of "Voyage to the Heart of Scientology", ""When you leave Scientology, you're totally broken, as a human being, financially, morally. Your own identity is the result of indoctrination aimed at destroying your critical faculties. When you leave, the feeling of shame and guilt is enormous. It's unbearable."
According to Georges Fenech, magistrate and former MP for president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, this isn't a matter of religious persecution, as French scientologists allege. "For France, Scientology is a vast commercial enterprise hiding behind a religious mask," he says. "This is not something against the Ron Hubbardian doctrine, or beliefs about intergalactic happenings thousands of years ago. What we're interested in is that people are dragged into this movement, lose their liberty, autonomy and sometimes their life." He says France protects freedom of religion, "but if a law is being broken, the state will go there. Religion isn't a protection against the law."
Furthermore, according to the US Department of State (link), France makes efforts to protect scientology in their country. "Discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and other groups considered dangerous sects or cults remained a concern and may have contributed to acts of vandalism against these groups." As with all groups considered to be "cults" or "sects", France attempts to be fair and reasonable, and will only intervene, as in this case, where there is a perceived danger to the public.