Scientology Facing Murky Future in France

French Members Feel Persecuted by Government

French members of Scientology who spoke to said they see themselves as victims of the French secular system and of a typically Gallic religious narrow-mindedness.

"The French system attacks minorities," said Gounord. "It is easier to attack smaller religious movements."

Scientology, founded in 1954 by American science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, promotes "well-being" and its own vision of a "better world" through collective spiritual sessions, readings and social actions.

The first Scientologist church in France was open in 1959.

"I would like France to be more like the United States," said Paris-based Scientology member Michel Raoust, "where there is more tolerance towards religions."

"I cannot even consider the end of Scientology in France," said Raoust. "The truth will be known, and the truth is that we are a religion of goodwill."

Former Member Cries Foul

Roger Gonnet, who said he was a prominent member of Scientology in Lyon, France, between 1974 and 1982, strongly disagrees.

"Scientology is a cult and a rip-off," Gonnet told

"They promise you perfect health and a life without any problem," said Gonnet, "but when I reached the highest levels of the organization I found out that their 'secrets' were completely dumb."

"There were no positive results in my life, but fares kept going up," he said.

Gonnet said he got kicked out of the organization because he was too outspoken -- a humiliation that led many of his member-friends to follow him and abandon Scientology.

According to Gounord, Gonnet, who worked for Scientology, was expelled because he mishandled the group's finances.

"The only thing that is free with Scientology is the entry questionnaire," said Miviludes' Roulet.

Raoust, a Paris-based engineer who is still a member, said he joined Scientology in 1975 and has paid large amounts of money to the organization, though he says he never counted exactly how much.

"I make good money, so it doesn't bother me to invest in my personal development," Raoust said. "I would rather do that than buying a beautiful convertible."

Leaving Presents Issues

According to Roulet, leaving the Scientology can be particularly tricky.

"The victims join the group willingly, but little by little they stop thinking for themselves and do whatever their guru tells them to do," he said.

It happens sometimes that people realize that they spent all the money they had to progress within the organization and that that did not yield anything positive, said Roulet.

But Scientology spokesman Gounord said that if members reach a point where they decide to actually leave the organization, Scientology offers them a reimbursement package.

"We are the only ones who do this," Gounord told

Although today it struggles to get recognition in France, Scientology is indeed a powerful and internationally established organization, but this does not seem to intimidate Roulet and the like.

"It may take several years," he said, "but we can ban this organization in France."

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