Prehistoric Aggression: More Reasons Katie Holmes Was Smart to Avoid Scientology Marriage Counseling
"In all the planets in all the eons of the universe, you walk into mine."
In its print edition today, the New York Times is catching up to something we printed on Wednesday about the weirdness of Scientology's marriage counseling.
After news broke that Katie Holmes was divorcing Tom Cruise, various news outlets relied on Scientology PR to give the impression that, as ABC put it, "the church concentrates on improving couples' relationships through therapy." That sounded warm and fuzzy, but then we showed how Scientology's marriage counseling actually works by going right to the source: the actual counseling instructions laid down by church founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The Times today is publishing a story that hints at those instructions without, for some reason, quoting Hubbard and explaining that the ritual involves an auditor asking only two questions: in Katie Holmes' case, she would be asked, "What have you done to Tom?" and "What have you withheld from Tom?" repeatedly. For hours. At nearly $6,000 per 12.5-hour "intensive."
We can't imagine why the Times is leaving out that detail in what is otherwise a very good piece. But we're going to advance the story anyway: it turns out Scientology marriage counseling is weirder than even we let on!
We had assumed, based on what we were told about the Scientology movie, The Married Couple, that the subjects of this counseling would be interrogated until they gave up secrets like infidelity or stealing that had been going on in their relationship, um, you know, like here on this planet.
But we plum forgot that these are folks who believe that Scientology's "tech" allows them to investigate the experiences down their "whole track" of existence, which can be millions of years in their past!
As ex-Scientologist Patty Moher put it in our comments Wednesday: "I'm not surprised Scientology didn't use my marriage counseling data against me. After all, it would have been kind of weird for them to discuss my past life indiscretions where I killed my husband during an intergalactic battle! The delusion ran really deep."
We confirmed with an expert on Scientology technical processes, Claire Headley, that "whole track" experiences could definitely come up in the marriage counseling process -- even for a "pre-clear" like Katie Holmes. (Although Tom, as an OT VII, might have some interference from his body thetans, which is indicated in the policy under "OTs.")
Last night, I talked to Matt Plahuta, a Colorado resident, who went through Scientology marriage counseling about 20 years ago, when his wife at the time went whole track and turned the process into space opera.
He confirmed that the counseling consisted of being asked over and over, "What have you done to [spouse's name]?"
The point is to pry out of you secrets that you've been holding back.
"The auditor is supposed to keep the person focused in current time," he says. "The auditor in our case tried, but my wife kept going whole track."
She was describing something she had done to him in previous eons. "It really was her recollection of doing something to me back then," he says.
"I was sitting there thinking, this is fucked."
Matt said he rarely saw Scientology's marriage counseling ever do anyone any good. "It didn't ever work. It didn't help our marriage...Scientology says they have the answers to everything. They promote how they can fix marriages. But it's not that great. Divorce is really common in Scientology," he says. Even with his wife going whole track, they eventually divorced.
Today he's married to someone else, Cindy Plahuta, who went through her own ordeal with Scientology marriage counseling.
I told her I was interested in what her sessions were like, but admitted that I felt like it might be an intrusion.
"In Scientology you have no private life," she said with a laugh. "You really don't. It's all out there." As one spouse and then another are asked to spill their secrets over and over again, anything they say is written down and recorded in their files.
"The first time I did it with my ex-husband, it was pretty fast, and I just wanted to get it over with," she says. "We got to do it under 'chaplain rates,' which was about $200. The second time it was excruciating. We paid the intensive rate -- $7,800 for 12.5 hours."
And for that money? "They ask you the same question, over and over," she says. "We got done with this back and forth thing, and then we got sent to the chaplain. [Scientology's version of a sort of small claims court.] It is so unbelievable what you have to do to get a divorce through the Church of Scientology. If you don't go through the church you're threatened with being declared a suppressive person," (Scientology's version of excommunication).
Cindy wanted nothing to do with that process, and filed for divorce in the courts instead. "I was kind of done. I didn't want to go to the church. I had gone to my parents house in the middle of Florida," she says. "But I started getting phone calls there. They had tracked me down...they left messages on my parents' phone. It got to the point that it was so embarrassing."
She relented, and agreed to go through Scientology's version of divorce. "I was a resident of California, where I should have got 50 percent of everything. Instead, I had to agree to what my husband wanted, and I got nothing. I did it just to get him to stop pushing and creating pressure on me through the church. It was two or three years of utter harassment."
After that experience, she met and married Matt, and then the two of them began having doubts about the church itself. After Cindy read the 2009 Tampa Bay Times expose, "The Truth Rundown," she began contacting the former church executives who had spoken out in it. Matt joined her in pulling away from the church more and more.
They paid a heavy price for that decision: each of them has grown daughters who disconnected from them and no longer have any contact with them because of their decision to leave the church.
Cindy also has a son, but he stood by his mother. "My son was disillusioned with Scientology for ten years," she says. "He's done."
But then she tried to talk to her daughter about pulling out. "I told her what I was seeing. I took her to lunch and told her what I'd been reading. She said, 'Mom, that's just unbelievable.' She went home to California, and the next day I had an e-mail from the DSA of Orange County," she says, referring to a local official there.
"She turned me in."
She gets emotional telling me the story, and I can understand why.
"I was so close to her, you have no idea. We look alike, we talk alike," Cindy says.
For a year, she says, the two of them were able to stay in touch as long as Cindy agreed not to say anything negative about the church. "OK, I can do that, I told her. We did that for a year. But then about a year ago, she told me that I needed to call the ethics officer at Flag," she says, referring to Scientology's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. Cindy refused, and offered to talk about it when she flew to Orange County, California the next week to see her daughter perform in a ballet.
"The next day she e-mailed me, and said don't come. I haven't heard from her since."
Her daughter is 35.
Well, I know this piece started out as a lighthearted look at Scientology's bizarre marriage counseling, but it turned into yet another heartbreaking story of disconnection. It's funny how often that seems to happen.
OK, class, we'll rely on our illustrious commenting community to lighten the mood and come up with the sorts of whole track secrets Tom and Katie might have been keeping from each other until they underwent the penetrating process of infallible Hubbard tech. "What have you done to Tom, Katie? What have you withheld from Katie, Tom?"
See also: What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group No memorial service for Scientology president's son? "Despicable."
Shelly's Just Working Hard
This is David Miscavige's weekend: he's the leader of a sprawling, billion-dollar organization that is dedicated to providing for his every whim, he's throwing a party for himself that is being attended by wealthy and celebrity Scientologists from around the globe, and it's all happening on the 440-foot, private cruise ship the Freewinds, which is docked in St. Kitts in the Caribbean.
OK, maybe it's a bit sweltering down there right now, but the annual "Maiden Voyage" celebration happening on the barge has got to be off the hook, just like parties we've seen there in the past.
If Miscavige knows one thing, it's how to party. But for some reason, he never brings along his wife Shelly.
On Thursday, we wrote what we know about the mystery of Michelle "Shelly" Barnett, who suddenly vanished from Scientology's international base east of Los Angeles about five years ago. Before that, she was known as a hard-as-nails executive who was her husband's gung-ho partner running the church. But after being seen at her father's funeral in August, 2007, ex-Scientologists say she was suddenly nowhere to be seen. She didn't go to the big events that David Miscavige throws about five times a year, she wasn't seen around Int Base, and she just didn't seem to be a part of her husband's life anymore. As we explained, workers at Int Base like John Brousseau had reason to believe that she had been shipped up to an extremely secretive, lightly populated mountain compound that Scientology operates near Lake Arrowhead, California and is the headquarters for its strangest division, the Church of Spiritual Technology.
Now that Scientology news is suddenly the stuff of front pages, more and more news organizations are asking what church observers have been asking for years: Where's Shelly?
That prompted this response from the church, the first official word anyone has heard about the woman in five years: "She is not missing. Any reports that she is missing are false . . . Mrs. Miscavige has been working non-stop in the Church, as she always has," US magazine was told.
Sure, Shelly's working away diligently in the isolation at CST headquarters, one assumes. I mean, it's not like she has an interest to join the party on the boat in the Caribbean, right? Or dress up with the rest of the folks for the Birthday Event, or an IAS gala?
Apparently, she's just not a party girl.
Scientology Sunday Funnies!
Just about every day, we receive the latest wacky and tacky fundraising mailers put out by Scientology orgs around the world. Thank you, tipsters, for forwarding them to us! On Sundays, we love to reveal them to you.
We're foregoing the usual fundraising mailers for reasons that should be obvious. This week, our tipsters sent us a couple of images that we just had to share with you. I don't have credit information for them, so if you were responsible for creating these masterpieces, please e-mail me.
And from screenwriter Mark Olmsted (@MarquisMarq), there's this hilarious use of the (not-that-again!) Hitler meme...
Commenters of the Week
We've never been busier. Sunday: We turned to our legal expert Scott Pilutik to explain how Scientology could, indeed, be an issue in family court. Monday: Marty Rathbun reviewed Tom Cruise's previous divorce and offered him advice to give Katie everything she wants. Tuesday: We wished Tom Cruise a happy birthday and asked him to grow up. Wednesday: We used Scientology's own promotional materials to show that it does, indeed, take children under 16 into its Sea Org, despite its public pronouncements. Also Wednesday: We bypassed church PR to show what its ritual of marriage counseling is actually like. Thursday: We pushed back against some bad reporting to explain what we actually know, and don't know, about the disappearance of Scientology leader David Miscavige's wife, Shelly. Also Thursday: We broke the news of the death of Alexander Jentzsch, 27, son to the president of the Church of Scientology International. Friday: Another breaking story, that an entire mission in Haifa, Israel, is joining the ranks of longtime Scientologists breaking away from the official church. Saturday: We reported that Alexander Jentzsch's mother, Karen de la Carriere, has been told by the mortuary cremating him that there will be no memorial service for the son of the church president.
What a week. We've gone through and selected some of our favorite observations from our great commenting community.
Scientia, on photos we posted of Debbie Cook and Wayne Baugarten on the island of Guadeloupe after settling a lawsuit with the church...
As pissy as I was that Debbie didn't stick around and fight, her smiling, happy face makes me all warm and fuzzy. She looks beautiful too. Good on her.
Mighty Korgo of Teegeeack on what it must have been like at the Holmes-Cruise household...
It is 10:30 Monday morning. All over America kids are at recess. Over at the public school, the kids are playing cops and robbers. Over at the private school, the kids are playing cowboys and Indians. Over at the Delphi school, the kids are playing auditors and preclears.
Suri: Hey, dad, can I take the e-metre to school so we can play auditors and preclears? Tom: That thing cost $5000! Suri: Is that a yes or a no?
Jgg on the church's announcement that it doesn't take anyone younger than 16 for the hardcore Sea Org...
Valeska Paris, the subject of last year's Sea Org article which got a bit of attention, was 14 when she signed her billion year contract. So when did this "16 year minimum age rule" go into effect, this weekend?
Ivy Mapother on the prospects of Suri's education...
Katie Holmes has had a ringside seat to the education of the Cruise kids. Scientology home schooling is light on math and science and heavy on Hubbard BS. For Suri, it started with the New Valley Leadership Academy and was probably headed for an un-acredited Delphi school where kids are heavily recruited for the Sea Org. There's a big difference between an educated, independent and prepared for life kid and a functionally illiterate kid with rich parents and a family name. Plain and simple, Katie did not want Suri to turn out like Connor and Isabel Cruise.
Skip Press on Scientology's idea of how to save a marriage...
Marriage counseling in Scientology is a JOKE. I've done it on people and in retrospect, it was just another ruse to get more money from them, as you've outlined. From the sham marriages of Tom Cruise to the oddity that David Miscavige's own wife, Shelly, seems to have been missing for years, the fact is that $cientology should get a divorce -- from Mankind forever.
Kate Bornstein, after reading one of John P.'s mindblowing analyses...
John P., I wanna lick your brain.
Ivy Mapother, with another of her patented zingers...
Asking L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology for marital advice is like asking Luka Magnotta where's a good place to eat Chinese.
Patty Moher on her own experiences with Scientology marriage counseling...
As someone that has endured several intensives of "marriage counseling" while in Scientology, I can tell you it's all bogus. In order to get the needle on the e-meter to F/N (floating needle) one must go earlier/similar down the whole track. Meaning one must find earlier and similar overts or withholds and this leads one into looking into past life overts. LOL.
I'm not surprised Scientology didn't use my marriage counseling data against me. After all, it would have been kind of weird for them to discuss my past life indiscretions where I killed my husband during an intergalactic battle! The delusion ran really deep.
Jefferson Hawkins on Scientology's pronouncement about Shelly...
"Scientology lawyer Gary Soter said [Shelly Miscavige] 'is not missing. The claim is utterly ridiculous and unfounded.'"
Sure, they know exactly where she is and what she is doing. Every minute of every day.
John P. on the death of Alexander Jentzsch...
A high fever that suddenly turns deadly, potentially left untreated due to medical quackery taught by the cult, leading to what could easily have been a preventable death.
A missing, aging, and potentially unhealthy father, who won't be told of the passing of his beloved son.
A devoted, loving mother left uninformed not just of the fatal illness but of the death of her son, whose story about the forced disconnection from her son, already written up elsewhere, has touched many in the Scientology critics community.
It's hard to look at this and stop feeling deep burning outrage long enough to feel compassion and healing thoughts for Karen as she deals with this devastating news.
Karen, I don't know you, but I wish you all the strength and comfort possible as you deal with your loss.
Karen de la Carriere's response to John P....
Thank you John P. Thank you Village voice posters. Your thoughtfulness and kindness touches my heart.
Mark Bunker on Karen's loss....
What horrible news this is. I am fighting back tears on this one. I just got off the phone with a reporter where we talked at depth about disconnection, SP's and the breakup of families. You never expect Scientology to sink this low but of course they do.
TheHoleDoesNotExist on Dani and Tami Lemberger, who started a Scientology mission in Haifa, Israel in 1992, and are now breaking away from the church...
I just love this story, and this couple. This is what it was like in the "old days". It was spiritual but fun and always something going on to capture your interest. Missions have always had a strict policy about applying Hubbard's totalitarian Ethics control manipulators: Don't Do It! Actual sane Public Relations replaced it and that is why it is 100% different than an org.
Dani and Tani also sound like they have the kind of rip roarin' pioneer devil may care spirit that lead to spectacular success because of real world education and/or work experience to fuel it consistently. People like Dani are charismatic magnets and the sole reason for his expansion. The same was true for the Scientology mission network up until the 80's when it was smashed.
It's also a bit maddening to see the lights dimmed on such a brilliant soul. He obeyed the order all those years to not check out facts about his coveted paradise. That is what Scientology does to your brain. His story reminds me how difficult it must be for those so deeply invested for so long to suddenly wake up and realize, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, they're not in Kansas anymore. I sincerely wish them best on their new adventure: The Hubbard Onion Peel. I have no doubt they will be successful and go on to find and deliver a better way, whatever that may be, in their humanitarian pursuits.
This is an accurate snapshot of Scientology: it's a cross between Amway and Mafia. No, really.
And finally, Sid on the church's treatment of Karen...
This really is completely disgusting. A mother should be allowed to see her dead son one last time if she wants to. Shame, shame, shame on the corrupt, selfish Church of Scientology.
To those still inside: for how long will you tolerate this behaviour? By staying silent you prolong the agony of mothers like Karen. She has spoken out, and paid the price. But her integrity is intact. She will look at herself in the mirror with no problem tomorrow morning. Will you?
Wow, what a day. What a week. Things are really a mess here in the underground bunker. But the hootch is holding out, so we're soldiering on.
Please remember to check our Facebook author page for updates and schedules.
********** Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.