FIGHT IN THE STREETS AND
COURTS OF EUROPE
June 16, 1997
DUBLIN - Inter Press Service via Individual Inc. :
European soccer chiefs watching last month's
UEFA cup final second leg were enraged. Not by
the goals, but by what was pasted up behind them:
advertisements for the controversial Church of
The game's European ruling body now says that the
host club, top Italian team Inter Milan will be fined
if they admit they agreed to allow the group to
place banners behind the goals for the May 21
It was only the latest spat in Europe's increasingly
bizarre war of words and writs against the Church
of Scientology, itself a peculiar mix of science
fiction, old sailor's lore, and psychological
In France, 15 members are appealing in Lyon their
conviction for involuntary manslaughter and
corruption charges following the March 1988
suicide of Patrice Vic, a 31-year-old member of
In Germany today, the government said its
intelligence services will extend their surveillance
of the Church of Scientology from two states to the
whole of the country.
German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther says the
group's activities violate Germany's democratic
institutions. He has asked German intelligence to
"immediately take all necessary steps to shed light
on the sect's activities."
And in Dublin the group has become the focus of a
campaign by a family who says their son was
"brainwashed" by the group.
The charges have been matched in vitriol by the
Church of Scientology itself. It has repeated its
charges that the German government was behaving
"like Nazis" by "persecuting" the group.
Heber Jentzsch, president of the Los
Angeles-based church said in a statement today that
Germany was following in the footsteps of "the
brown-shirted bullies of the 1930s" by authorizing
their spies to track members of a religious group.
Several celebrities, including Hollywood film stars
John Travolta and Tom Cruise and jazz pianist
Chick Corea belong to the group, which has an
estimated 1,200 churches, missions, and groups
worldwide and assets estimated at $150 million.
Germany regards the Church of Scientology as a
commercial enterprise, the Vatican says it is a sect,
and France denies it legal status as a religion.
However Britain and the U.S. allow it tax breaks as
a recognized faith.
Founded by the late U.S. science fiction writer L.
Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, the Church of
Scientology has been investigated by the courts in
several countries for alleged fraud and illegal
In Dublin earlier this week, there were protests by
the family and friends of 24-year-old Odhran
Fortune outside the sect's Dianetics & Scientology
office in the city center.
Odhran Fortune joined the Church of Scientology
three years ago when he was working in
Copenhagen, and his family say they have
"He was an extrovert, now he's an introvert," his
mother, Ann Fortune, told IPS. When he came
home to visit them in December, they were worried
about his health. He looked like "skin and bones."
There are only 200 Scientologists in Ireland, but as
everywhere else they have fought back furiously.
As Fortune's parents protested outside the shop on
June 9, a counter demonstration was hastily
Tougher action followed the next day when the
Church served an Irish High Court injunction on the
family preventing them from protesting within 10
yards of the premises or from "in any way
threatening, assaulting or intimidating" members of
A similar injunction applies on the Fortunes in
"This is actually just religious oppression, that is
what it is," member John Lynch told IPS.
"Scientology is a minority religion here and this
carry-on is religious harassment. That is what it is."
The hard-line defense is typical of the
Scientologists' response to charges. Last year
prominent supporters of the sect in the United
States took out a full page advertisement in the
International Herald Tribune condemning German
policy towards its activities.
Odhran Fortune himself phoned Irish state radio
from an undisclosed location in Britain on June 9
to say that he was happy to be back with the Church.
He said his family had detained him at their home
in Gorey, County Wexford, for five months before
he was able to phone a fellow Church member and
ask for help. It was "absurd" that he had to choose
"between my religion and my family," he said.
Gerard Ryan, the member of the Church of
Scientology who had collected Fortune in
Wexford, said that media was hostile to the group
and lacked evidence of wrongdoing. "All that has
been said against us is allegation after allegation
after allegation," he told IPS.
Both Fortune and Ryan blamed the work of
so-called "deprogrammers" -- supposed "experts" in
weaning cult members away from dependency on
their cults -- for turning families against church
members. Ryan called them "Christian
fundamentalists." Other religious cults, such as
Ananda Marga and Rev. Sun Yung Moon's
Unification Church have also been treated unfairly,
But Father Martin Tierney, an Irish expert on cults,
said of the Church of Scientology on state radio: "I
personally think it's a complete counterfeit. I don't
think it's rooted in any reality, scientific, medical,
Tierney said that for new recruits, joining the
Church was like winning a lottery ticket. They were
surrounded by loving friends as long as they
accepted everything they were told. If they did not
accept any of the Church's teaching, the
disagreement would be linked to something that
was wrong with their personality.
A caller to the radio program, the Pat Kenny Show,
who knew a friend who broke away from the Church
of Scientology, described being part of the group as
"an addiction to peer pressure."
"When you're leaving the circle, you're breaking the
circle of friendship and love," he said.
Odhran Fortune's family says they are determined
to continue their protests until their son is returned
to them. "We're going to continue forever and ever
and ever," said his brother Diarmuid. "We're not
stopping, put it that way."
[Copyright 1997, Inter Press Service]