Free church or cult? Scientology investigated

Eight people investigated for criminal association and personal damages


March 30, 2001

Is Scientology a church to which people freely affiliate, or is it a cult that inflicts suffering and psychic violence to their members? The matter has been discussed with alternate results in many countries in the last 40 yrs. Now, it comes up again with an investigation opened by the state attorney Francesco Fleury in Florence.

He's investigating 8 italian executives of the Church of Scientology, assuming felonies against them such as criminal association and personal damages.

In Mr. Fleury's opinion, infact, sufferings and psychic violence that, according to the charges, would be inflicted to the followers could be equalled to physical injuries.

The Church of Scientology was founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, who published "Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health" in 1950. The book became one of the sacred scriptures of the organization, that now counts 700 centres in 65 countries.

The investigation in Florence begun in 1998, when the parents of a conservatoire student, who became a follower of Scientology, filed a complaint. They were desperate for their daughter left her studies and severed her contacts with her family. She seemed to be totally sucked into the cult. The girl is now living in Milan, where she has taken up her studies again.

The magistrate questioned the girl's parents and ordered the acquisition of a wide documentation about the structure and activities of Scientology, seizing them both in the Florence branch, located near the State of Attorney office, and in the Milan centre, the most important in Italy.

Methods and activties of Scientology were the object of a worried paragraph of a report about "Religious Sects and New Magic Movements in Italy" presented by the Ministry of Interior on April 29th, 1998 [for the English translation of the paragraph about Scientology, see here.

According to Ministry experts, the followers of Scientology are induced to attend more and more expensive courses, during which they are subjected to physical strains (overwhelming work, hypervitaminic and hyperproteic diets) as well as psychological strains (forced reading, pressures and intimidations) in order to reduce them to a state of total subjection.

Critics, opponents and ex members of the organization would be subjected to shadowings, threats, harassing and even sabotage.

In Italy Scientology was the centre of the attention of a series of dramatic trials.

Started in Milan in 1986, the state attorney Pietro Forno described scientologists as "amatorial psychiatrists who practice psychological terrorism" with "devastating" effects on their victims. This judgement is shared by several psychologists, according to which "Scientology destroys the mind of people with wild psychoterapies". But after two sentences of the lower and appelate courts, the Milan sentence against Scientology was cancelled by the Supreme Court.

Another sentence was passed, but it was also cancelled by the Supreme Court. Finally the acquittal. Scientology, whose defence in Florence is represented by lawyer Sandro Traversi, refutes attacks, suspects and charges claiming its nature of Church, to which consenting adults freely affiliate. It asks equal treatement as other churches, and underlines it was recognized by the italian institutions. It wasn't recognized as an "admitted faith", but it obtained tax exemption fot its schooling and religious activities.