When scientologists marry, the words conveyed in the church’s wedding service typically contain plenty of warnings. For one, couples are expected to uphold their commitments even when romance and good fortune wane: “Know that life is stark and often somewhat grim, and tiredness and fret and pain and sickness do beget a state of mind where spring romance is far away and dead.”
Couples like Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise who want a divorce, are expected to find — through the scientology organisation — ways of working things out. So divorce for scientologists can often be a long and difficult process, according to several former members of the church.
As in other religions, the ultimate dissolution of a marriage is “something that’s taken up in a legal court,” says Rev. Ann Pearce, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology of Washington State. “That’s between two individuals, just like anybody of any religion getting divorced,” she says, adding, “There’s no ceremony recognising divorce in the Church of Scientology.” But along the way, former church members say, couples face unusual marital counselling sessions and are sometimes pressured to use in-house divorce lawyers.
One former church member who underwent this type of marital counselling is Carmen Llywelyn, 37, an actress and photographer who was once married to actor Jason Lee (known for his role in the comedy My Name Is Earl). Llywelyn and Lee, a member of the Church of Scientology, married in 1995, and she joined the church. Five years later the marriage was falling apart, she says.
Before deciding to divorce, the couple agreed to pay for a form of counselling that Llywelyn says entails sitting in a room answering questions while hooked up to a device known as an E-meter, which scientologists believe can detect unexpressed thoughts. She says a chaplain, also known as an auditor, questioned them for hours. “You do it until the needle is flat, until the sign on the machine doesn’t read any more thoughts,” she says.
“They think that once you unload all these bad things, you’re going to fall madly back in love with each other.” And when they didn’t, Llywelyn says, she was assigned an in-house lawyer. “Scientologists aren’t allowed to sue each other,” she says, because of a policy to contain any public disputes.
Pearce confirms that the church offers counselling, but declines to provide details, saying only, for further information, consult the website.
The church’s official website provides little information about divorce, but offers this on its counselling program: “Scientology Marriage Counseling is an exact procedure for alleviating marital problems.” It also says that “chaplains have successfully salvaged thousands of marriages”.
The organisation’s approach to divorce can be gleaned from the writings and life of L Ron Hubbard, the church’s founder, who was married three times. In Introduction to Scientology Ethics, he wrote, “Man has been frantic about the high divorce rate, about the high job turnover in plants, about labour unrest and many other items all stemming from the same source — sudden departures or gradual departures.”
A close reading of the book suggests that Hubbard was less concerned about the breakup of marriages than about having people break away from scientology.
©2012 The New York Times