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|Source:|| Arnaldo Lerma
|On Dec. 13, former Scientologist
LaVenda Van Schaick filed a
$200-million class-action lawsuit against the Church of
Scientology in Federal Court in Boston, contending that the
church falsely promises to improve the lives of its members.
Since then, 10 other ex-Scientologists have filed affidavits in
support of the suit, giving a glimpse of life within
Scientology. The church has filed a motion to dismiss that case.
It also sued Mrs. Van Schaick and others, contending that she is
"motivated by malice." Last week, the church sued Mrs. Van
Schaick's attorney Michael Flynn, charging that he and others,
stole church documents in Boston. This series of articles is
based on the Boston affidavits.
CLEARWATER - Former Church of Scientology members tell some pretty harrowing stories, in the form of recent court affidavits, about life within the church.
They include bizarre tales of forced labor, substandard living conditions, brainwashing and tyrannical leaders.
But despite all that, these ex-church members say, leaving the church can be almost as difficult as living in it.
"Emotionally and mentally I went through quite a trauma adjusting to the outside world," says Anne Rosenblum, 25, a seven-year church member who left in September 1978 and now lives in California.
IT TOOK ABOUT two months and a lot of "TLC" (tender loving care) by her parents, Ms. Rosenblum says, for her to "come out of the daze I was in."
"I was 23 years old," she recalls, "and I didn't know anything about opening a personal checking account, taxes, investments, buying a car, shopping, Social Security (that was a word I heard that had something to do with retirement).
"Watergate was something that I remembered hearing about, but I only had a vague impression that the President was impeached or resigned because of something he did to the Democratic Party."
Ms. Rosenblum says she experienced a mental "void" after leaving the church, "where everything you believe in all of a sudden vanishes, and it leaves you with nothing to hold onto."
"It is a very strange feeling," she said. "I went through a long period where I simply didn't believe anything — TV, books, newspapers, etc. I didn't believe because, if I had been so wrong before, how could I trust myself again to believe anything was right?"
"I realized that if at any point LRH (church founder L. Ron Hubbard) had handed me a glass of poison and told me to drink it, I would have, with no questions asked and no second thoughts," she says.
Church officials do not like it when staff members leave Scientology and usually make strenuous efforts to convince or coerce them to return, according to several affidavits. If the effort fails, former members state, church officials try to make sure that the "blown" staff members remain quiet about Scientology.
To enforce their will on a wavering or blown member, according to several affidavits, church officials use two potent tools:
CHURCH SPOKESMEN deny that PC files and freeloader bills are used to coerce errant church members. PC files are and always have been confidential and are available only to the member's auditor and case supervisor, they say.
As for freeloader bills; church spokesmen say, all staff members of the church agree in writing to pay for their auditing if they leave the church. Even so, spokesmen say, the bills are rarely collected, and the church has never gone to court seeking to collect one.
When Tonja Burden left the church after four years, she says she received a freeloader bill for $58,000. She says she returned it and then received a corrected bill for $36,005.70. She has since joined a federal class-action suit against the church, seeking $200-million in damages.
In Miss Burden's case, church spokesmen produced a formal statement, purportedly signed by her, releasing church founder L. Ron Hubbard and the church "from all rights, claims or any action which (Miss Burden) and (her) ... successors now have against L. Ron Hubbard, any person, any Scientology church, their assigns and successors."
Church officials say all members sign similar forms upon joining the church staff.
MARJORIE HANSEN, an ex-member who lives in Hanover, Mass., left the church in 1979 after little more than a year. During that time, she says, she served as a "personnel control officer" and helped keep track of staff files.
"I later learned that the purpose of my work was for the supervisors to control and if necessary to threaten staff members with the potential 'trouble' that would result to them if they left the church," Ms. Hansen says.
Silvana Garritano, a nine-year staff veteran, says this practice is called "crime-culling — the systematic perusal of auditing files and the extraction of confidential disclosures made during auditing sessions."
"The purpose," she adds, "is to glean embarrassing, humiliating and/or criminal disclosures."
Ms. Garritano says she was personally told to "cull" a file on a wavering Scientology staff member in California.
"I WAS TOLD to look for homosexual tendencies, child abuse, crimes, any strange relationship with his family or anything the guy would not want known," Ms. Garritano says. "My supervisor told me this information would be used to keep John Doe silent and prevent him from revealing anything about Scientology."
Edward Walters of Las Vegas, also a nine-year former staff member, says in his affidavit that pre-clears are led to believe that the information they reveal in auditing is just between them and their auditors.
"But I know as fact," Walters says, "that the Guardian's Office has systematically, through the years, used pre-clear data as a tool against any pre-dear who would cause 'a flap' or who would threaten to go to the authorities or see a lawyer to sue or get his money back."
That is just what LaVenda Van Schaick is trying to do. She is the lead plaintiff in the $200-million class action suit, filed in Federal Court in Boston.
In her own affidavit, Mrs. Van Schaick says that after she approached her attorney, Michael J. Flynn, late last year, church officials called Flynn and "without my permission disclosed to him information that I had disclosed during auditing and which was contained in my PC file."
FLYNN CORROBORATED Mrs. Van Schaick's story. But rather than dropping the case, the 35-year-old lawyer said the disclosures only motivated him to take it.
"It really p----- me off," Flynn said in an interview with The Times in his Boston office. "And I said that's ' not constitutional and decided to go after them."
Church spokesmen deny using materiel in Mrs. Van Schaick's PC rile when they contacted Flynn. They said the information they gave Flynn was from other sources.
In an apparent effort to discredit Flynn, spokesmen also allege that Flynn "lied" on his application to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners. They produced copies of the application in which Flynn wrote "no" after a question asking if he had ever been arrested or "complained of" for any violation of the law, including for a motor vehicle violation.
Spokesmen produced documents purporting to show that Flynn was sued as a result of a traffic accident in 1964, when he was 19, that he ran a stop sign when he was 18 and that he "failed to comply with the color indications in a certain traffic control signal" when he was 19.
FLYNN SAID HE discovered and corrected the mistakes on his application before he was admitted to the Bar. He said the Church of Scientology recently filed a complaint against him regarding the application with the Board of Bar Overseers in Massachusetts. Flynn said the board dismissed the complaint four weeks ago. A spokesman for the board, contacted by The Times, said information about the complaint — including whether it had been dismissed — could not be released.
Since filing the suit Dec. 13, Flynn said he has been approached by "over 100" ex-Scientologists interested in joining the action.
All of them are the victims of "a scheme to swindle, abuse, threaten, blackmail and divulge auditing information," Flynn said.
Among them is Ms. Rosenblum, whose personal affidavit covers 58 pages of testimony. She concludes her statement on a note of hope:
"Although I now live in a great deal of fear end terror because of what Scientology did to me, the constant control and deprivation imposed on me has left me with an appreciation for the simple things in life. Things like being able to get in a car and go for a ride, being able to be alone, being able to walk outside, feeling the sun on you, and all by your own choice.
"I don't think I ever really understood what it means to be free and have freedom until it was taken from me."
By Craig Roberton