January 31, 2013
Tomorrow, Ursula Caberta will retire from her post with the Hamburg state government after spending more than 20 years investigating Scientology’s influence in Germany.
Yesterday, we had a lengthy telephone conversation with her, and reviewed some of the highlights of her career, which was one of the most troublesome for Scientology in Europe.
“I’m done with my work for Hamburg. I’m free to do other things, including finishing my final book on Scientology,” she says.
In 1992, she began working with the Hamburg Scientology Task Force, and began spreading word about the alleged abuses in Scientology. She says that one of her main activities was assisting people who wanted to leave the church. Her efforts became well known in the country and in 2007, she was part of a failed push to have Germany’s federal government ban Scientology outright. In 2010, budget cuts ended the Hamburg task force, and now, without more government support, Caberta says it’s time for her to move on as well. She worries that it will mean a resurgence for the church, even with all of the bad publicity Scientology is enduring around the world.
“The state of Hamburg will stop its work on Scientology. In Germany we led the fight that they are a business, that they have nothing to do with religion. But if you’re not working always, day by day, to watch what they’re doing, then you know, in three or four months they’ll be back again,” she says.
And she’s worried about that?
“Yes, for sure.”
We asked her for some highlights of her career, and she pointed first to a 2004 judge’s ruling that Scientology posed a real threat to the German constitution.
“This is the biggest highlight, that it’s not about religion and not only about money but that it’s working against our constitution. When they fought that, they lost,” she says. “Scientology is working against freedom. Against the freedom of the press, against freedom of religion. And Germany is the only country in the world where we have a judgment like this. This is my work. I’m very proud of it.”
But she also says it was meaningful to help people leaving the church. “It was a highlight always when people came and said they wanted to go out from Scientology and said they needed help, to get a new life. They didn’t have money and other things,” she says.
We brought up another interesting moment from her career, when in 2000 she flew to Florida to meet businessman Robert Minton and other members of the Lisa McPherson Trust, named after a church member who had died at Scientology’s spiritual mecca, the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater
“OSA! Yes, it was not surprising for me, because OSA did attacks against me in Germany, too. I would get letters that I was going to die, or they were going to do things against my family. A lot of things,” Caberta says, referring to Scientology’s intelligence and covert operations wing, the Office of Special Affairs.
“In Germany I have the support of many people in the government, and journalists. I have people behind me. But in the US there’s nobody. There’s no help for anybody if they’re attacking you. Like Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jesse Prince, they’re getting attacked today and they don’t have government help. That’s a problem. That was my feeling in Florida. There was no chance to have official help,” she says. “I understood more after that visit, and I knew people had more problems in the US, because the state is doing nothing. That’s the biggest problem.”
Caberta reserves her biggest praise for the ex-Scientologists and critics who helped her get word out about Scientology’s workings. “We had conferences with ex-members from the United States. Marc Headley, Jason Beghe, Jesse Prince, Amy Scobee, Hana Whitfield. To have those people helping me in Germany, it was wonderful,” she says. “When we had the big conference with Headley and Beghe, [church attorney] Kendrick Moxon was there going crazy. ‘Caberta, Caberta, do you know what you are doning?’ Yes, Mr. Moxon, I do know what I’m doing.”
It was always fascinating to meet former church officials who had been told she was the epitome of evil. “Amy Scobee was so nice. When I went to the airport to pick her up for a conference, she said, ‘Oh, Ursula, where are your horns? You don’t look like the devil’,” she says with a laugh.
She also speaks warmly of Robert Vaughn Young, who helped her out in her early days working for the Hamburg state. Vaughn Young had been a spokesman for the church, and his defection was a huge problem for Scientology. (He died of cancer in 2003.)
“In the early 1990s, he was lovely, helping me a lot. We were in a hotel one time having drinks, and high-ranking church executive] Kurt Weiland showed up. Robert said ‘Kurt! Sit down and have a drink with me and Ursula!’ Weiland was the OSA boss at the time,” she says, laughing as she remembers it. She says the hotel kicked Weiland out. “We had a lot of fun. It wasn’t only stress.”
“When [attorney] Graham Berry was in Hamburg, the US consulate sent a letter to my bosses. At this last conference about Scintology, they said we were harassing the USA. We said, we are a free country, it’s not harassment to tell the truth.”
Repeatedly, through its influence in Washington and with the use of its celebrities, Scientology has convinced the US State Department to chastise European countries for opposing the church. “They came to Europe and told us we were fighting religion and freedom when Clinton was president. It was stupid,” she says.
We asked her about the current situation that Scientology finds itself in. For example, in Belgium, federal prosecutors have announced an intention to treat Scientology as a business as they seek a conviction on fraud, and will ignore questions about whether Scientology is a church or religion.
“It’s very interesting. Hopefully they will start in March. Scientology is always trying to stop these things with their attorneys, but I’ve talked with the prosecutors, and if it starts next month, I will go to Brussels. I don’t speak French, but I want to go there and watch Scientology’s attorneys,” she says.
We also noted how much more aggressive the British press has become in the last year. “I’m very happy about it. And the US press too. We’ve never had so much press,” she says. “But for me the most important thing is what’s going on in the US. You can’t stop an organization like Scientology only from Germany or Belgium. You have to stop them from their headquarters, which is the United States of America. But if the US government is not changing its mind about this criminal organization, then I don’t know if we have a chance in Europe to stop it.”
In recent years, one of the biggest events for Caberta was Marty Rathbun’s trip to Hamburg. Rathbun had been the second-highest ranking official in the church, but in 2004 he defected and then started up a blog critical of Scientology leader David Miscavige in 2009. In September 2011, Rathbun went to Germany.
“I was very happy to see him. We have big differences about the way we see Mr. Hubbard, but that’s not important. For someone like that to leave Scientology, that’s what matters,” she says.
Like us, she’s seen many longtime church members defect in recent years because of their unhappiness with Scientology leader David Miscavige, but who still consider themselves loyal to Hubbard as “independent Scientologists.”
“I tell them to actually read Hubbard. When you’re in you’re doing course work and studying about yourself. Now that you’re out, read Hubbard, read about Scientology ethics and splitting up families. It takes them time to discuss it,” she says.
“One ex-member, a German OT VII, lost all of his money in Scientology. [Operating Thetan level 7 is the second-highest level of spiritual enlightenment a church member can attain, and can require many years and several hundred thousand dollars to complete.] He called me, saying I’m out of Scientology. I knew his name because he was a big name in German Scientology. Come to the office, I said, and he came,” Caberta remembers. “The first thing he said, he wanted his money back. That’s what they all want. But do you have paperwork? No, because Scientology doesn’t give them paperwork. Another thing he wanted, he was OT VII and he wanted to do OT VIII. I told him I couldn’t help him with that. Would you please write to Clearwater, write to Flag? he asked me. Tell them I want to do OT8 and I don’t want to send them any more money. I said, you think if I write this they will do that? Yes, they will! he said. That’s ex-members. They need to time to learn. Sometimes a long time.”
Caberta says she was successfully helping Scientologists leave the church, and she’s proud of that work. But now the work is done. We asked how she felt about that.
“Wonderful. You can’t do this job if the government is not behind you 100 percent. In the last two or three years, they closed the task force. It’s not the same when you don’t have five people working with you. Alone, it’s not the same. And with no money for conferences and what we do,” she says.
Would she consider coming to the United States again?
“Never. Never again,” she says. But then adds a condition: “If the government is doing something against Scientology and Mr. Miscavige is in jail, maybe then I’m coming. But otherwise, no, never again.”
Her work for the state of Hamburg will be celebrated with a party on March 20 at Hamburg’s City Hall.
“I think it’s a good time to invite all the people I love, and hopefully they’re coming. From the US too.”
By Tony Ortega