Translation of a Spanish article published on October 28, 2012 in issue 1878 of the weekly Mexican newsmagazine Proceso
(scan image provided below).
The article was also posted on October 31, 2012 on the Proceso
La cienciología, entre secta y mafia
Scientology, between cult and mafia
by Juan Pablo Proal
October 28, 2012
With a presence in 165 countries, the Church of Scientology, founded more than 60 years ago by American L. Ron Hubbard, applied once again a few weeks ago for recognition as a religious organization by the Secretariat of the Interior, a request that was denied in 1999. This group has been the object of countless reports in various parts of the world for offenses as diverse as human trafficking, extortion, and even homicide.
In recent years, researchers and specialists alike have been saying that Scientology has degenerated into a highly dangerous cult, but, despite these warnings, Scientology is poised to obtain registration as religious group in Mexico.
Last September 13, Mexico's Official Gazette
published the Church of Scientology's application for registration as a religious association. The General Directorate for Religious Associations, an office within the Secretariat of the Interior, announced that the organization founded by American L. Ron Hubbard met the requirements for obtaining recognition as established by the Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship.
Since its inception, Scientology has faced serious accusations that include allegations of forced abortions, human trafficking, extortion, fraud, and even murder.
Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Miguel Perlado, founder and president of the Iberoamerican Association for Research on Psychological Abuse, who has 13 years of experience in treating patients affected by cults, warns that Scientology "is seeking to legitimize its discourse using religion as a pretext." In this manner, he explains, "All of its clearly manipulative and exploitative activities would be covered under the legal framework for religions."
For her part, researcher Myrna García, co-founder, advisor and general coordinator of the Support Network for Victims of Cults, warns that Dianetics does not satisfy the criteria required to be considered as a religious group. "It's a clearly sectarian business," she says. "We are talking about a company that sells courses ... it extorts people."
The Catholic Church is also displeased about the possible inclusion of Scientology in the list of religious groups recognized by the government. The Secretary General of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, Víctor René Rodríguez Gómez, says: "We would be very surprised if the Secretariat of the Interior were to grant approval to this institution that has generated so much controversy all around the world."
In Scientology's defense, Jonathan Marduk, spokesman for the Church of Scientology in Mexico, responds: "Our fundamental belief is that the salvation of man and a closer relationship with God are achieved through knowledge."
Scientology has continually been associated with controversy. For years, dissidents from the movement, experts on religious issues, governments, and journalistic investigations have all concluded that this is all about something worse than a cult. It is "a mafia," they assert.
Dianetics was founded in the early 1950s by American L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles, California. Today the movement has 8,600 churches, missions, and groups in 165 countries.
In his book Broca's Brain
, scientist Carl Sagan mentions that Hubbard, who made his living as a science fiction writer, created Scientology on a bet: "He had to invent a religion and make money from it."
In El infierno de las sectas
["The Hell of Sects"], Spanish historian César Vidal Manzanares tells a similar story with a quotation attributed to Hubbard himself: "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion."
In 1950, Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health
. This book became the philosophical foundation of the organization: an amalgam of Eastern beliefs. In Scientology, Hubbard is considered a genius who mastered multiple disciplines. But in the biography entitled Messiah or madman?
, his eldest son, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr, the father's most notorious detractor, says that "Ninety-nine percent of anything my father ever said or wrote about himself is untrue."
Hubbard died in 1986 after six years of inactivity, and there is as yet no clear information about the causes of his death. Various versions have circulated, including a possible murder.
Dianetics came to Mexico in the early 1960s, and, in 1998, it applied for registration as a religious association. Although the application proceeded through the initial steps, the General Directorate for Religious Associations ruled that the documents submitted were insufficient, and, a year later, it turned down the request.
According to information provided by the movement, it now has 5,500 members in the Federal District [Mexico City], "while, countrywide, approximately 140,000 Mexicans have turned to Scientology".
Why does this group have so many detractors?
"The goal of Scientology and the oil that lubricates the whole Scientology machinery are purely financial," says Miguel Perlado.
He emphasizes that Dianetics has all the characteristics of a religious cult: it relentlessly persecutes dissidents, it abuses its members emotionally, it exploits people financially, it impedes interfaith dialogue, and it promotes intolerance.
In Mexico, the organization owns 12 buildings and is present in Mexico City, León, Guadalajara, Puebla, and Monterrey. Outside its offices, men in suits can be seen inviting passers-by to take a "stress test." This is the first contact. Prospects are then offered inexpensive courses to improve their performance in various areas of their life.
The movement has groups that operate in areas such as business consultancy and the fight against addictions. As followers become more deeply involved with the cult, the price of courses increases, as does the amount of time that members devote to their training.
According to Mexico's Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship, a religious group must not be organized primarily for profit, must respect different religions, and must promote tolerance.
César Velasco is a former member of the cult. While he was in, he spent more than 500,000 pesos for courses. He defected from the group when his daughter told him that a high-level staff member had sexually abused her. He then wrote to Margarita Ibáñez, the person in charge of Scientology's legal affairs, to demand that Alejandro Aristi, who was named as responsible for the offense, face sanctions.
The "punishment" imposed on the alleged molester was 300 hours of work. Velasco considered this insufficient, and his objection was enough to have him declared "suppressive," the equivalent of an undesirable person (Proceso 1846
). As a result, Velasco cannot speak with the members of his family who remain inside the group.
In an interview with Proceso
, Velasco maintains that Scientology fosters intolerance and that its orientation is strictly mercantile:
"The simple fact that, when you're expelled from the congregation, you can only speak to a member of the organization known as the International Justice Chief is quite damaging to a person's mental health."
The founder of the Support Network for Victims of Cults, Myrna García, says that Dianetics is one of the most harmful cults. Its main feature, she points out, is that it charges for the courses it offers. The first courses cost about 250 dollars, and as a person progresses along the workshops and certificates, the prices become stratospheric. The devotee borrows money from banks and ends up in bankruptcy working for the organization. If a person wants to leave, García adds, the cult's legal department issues a bill for all outstanding debts.
"We're talking about a totalitarian and coercive group, a group that extorts people," says Myrna García, who is also a researcher and expert in demography.
She adds that the cult's victims match the profile that the American Psychiatric Association in the United States uses to diagnose dependent personality disorder: they have difficulty making everyday decisions, they need to have others take responsibility for their own actions, they fear being alone, and they have an excessive preoccupation with the risk of being abandoned.
presented the testimony of former members of the cult in Mexico. It described the case of Rafael Gómez, who went from being a successful entrepreneur to working 17 hours a day for the group, without the right to any benefits and with an average salary of 200 pesos a week. The article also included the story of Adrian Kelsey, who was denied any possibility of visiting his daughter Estafanía because he was declared "suppressive."
After the publication of the article, some of the dissidents who offered their testimony to Proceso
reported that they received threats. Two of them have decided they will no longer speak out on this subject.
On August 25, 2011, the Office of the General Prosecutor issued Bulletin 1722, which announced that Alex Spatz, a member of the Sea Organization, Scientology's operational arm, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for the crime of human trafficking involving a Colombian woman.
Rafael Gómez, a former member of the Sea Organization, revealed that, at number 29 Río Rhin Street in Mexico City's Cuauhtemoc district, a center that belongs to the group, foreigners with tourist visas are living and working in subhuman conditions to carry out the cult's projects.
When asked about the allegations made against Scientology, the organization's spokesman, Jonathan Marduk, says:
"With all due respect, this is a generality and you are probably talking about three or four individuals whose slander and extortion are presently in the hands of the authorities and under criminal investigation, so I won't comment on this."
Advantages of registration
Mexico is not the only country where former members accuse the organization of committing various crimes. In October 2009, Dianetics was fined 600,000 euros in France for fraud. In Russia, the Religious Council of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District banned materials by Hubbard because their content was ruled extremist.
The German government has called the group "very dangerous and authoritarian." In the United States, Greece, England, Spain, and Australia, it has been the object of formal complaints filed by some of its former members.
The BBC, Time
magazine, The New Yorker
, and many media outlets have published stories about cases of extortion and abuse by senior members of Dianetics against followers of the movement in various countries. And not only that: there are dozens of websites where dissidents accuse Scientology of having caused deaths, among them the deaths of Lisa McPherson and Alexander Jentzsch.
"These are slanderous falsehoods," says Jonathan Marduk. "The proof is that there is not a single court judgment that substantiates claims such as these. On the contrary, more than 100 experts from internationally renowned universities have conducted serious, rigorous studies, some for years, and have published reports and academic opinions on Scientology's practices, beliefs, and religious framework."
On December 12, 2011, Scientology filed its formal application with the General Directorate for Religious Associations to be considered as a religious group.
This directorate, an office within the Secretariat of the Interior, decided that the cult "satisfied the requirements" and, accordingly, last September 13, the directorate published the application in Mexico's Official Gazette
. The procedure allows those who disagree with the request to lodge an objection within 20 business days. Once the directorate has analyzed the documents concerning the case, it will proceed to reach a final decision.
What is the use of going through this registration procedure?
"This way," says Miguel Perlado, "the church will be able to legitimize itself religiously so as to conceal its primarily mercantile aims. It will also gain access to financial benefits, thanks to donations and tax exemptions, as well as more tools to discredit its detractors."
But, according to the spokesman for the group: "For our church, registration is merely that, a registration. It does not change the practice or observance of our religious doctrine."
He adds that, even though his group meets all the requirements to obtain registration, there has been a systematic smear campaign orchestrated by the extreme right-wing group El Yunque
["The Anvil"]. He cites as an example an article by Enrique Aranda Pedroza, a columnist for Excelsior
, whom he associates with the ultra-right-wing organization.
For Rafael Gómez, the registration of Scientology as a religious group could be beneficial, because the complaints and conflicts surrounding this cult could then be addressed by Mexican authorities in an expeditious manner.
The Catholic Church thinks differently. The Secretary General of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, Víctor René Rodríguez Gómez, asked the Secretariat of the Interior to be very careful about the groups to which it grants registration. He mentioned the case of the Santa Muerte
cult, to which the Secretariat of the Interior granted registration but later decided to cancel the registration "for serious deviations from the purposes specified in its charter."
Miguel Perlado expects that, if registration is granted to Scientology, this will mark the beginning of a new era for cults in Mexico, where the door has been left open for many more dangerous cults to become officialized.