Church Says "Nothing Mysterious" About Deaths

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: December 7, 1997

The Church of Scientology vehemently protested any attempt by law enforcement officials or the news media to draw conclusions from deaths of church members in Pinellas County.

In interviews and in a letter from its New York legal counsel, the church outlined its criticism of the Times investigation.

"For your newspaper even to suggest that somehow the Church may have been responsible for these rare and unfortunate events would be false and defamatory, would cast the church and its management in a false light and would be outrageous in the extreme," wrote New York lawyer Eric M. Lieberman in a letter to the Times after reporters questioned the deaths.

Scientologists die at no greater rate than Catholics or Lutherans or staffers at the St. Petersburg Times, Scientology spokesmen insisted.

"There is absolutely nothing mysterious, unusual or atypical about the unfortunate deaths of a few Scientology parishioners over the past 20 years," Lieberman added.

Scientology spokesmen Ben Shaw and Brian Anderson compared the deaths among Scientologists to deaths among staffers at the Times. The spokesmen said 105 Times staffers died during the past 10 years, including 21 Catholics, 12 Baptists, 10 Methodists and five Episcopalians.

Eight of the Times staffers died of cancer, three in auto accidents, two were murdered and two committed suicide, Scientology noted in a report on the deaths that included the autopsy reports on some of those who died.

A review of Times personnel files indicates that 22 of the 105 people on Scientology's list were employed by the Times when they died and 39 were retired employees. Thirty names on the list were people who had left the company before they died and 14 names do not appear in personnel records at the newspaper.

The church cannot be blamed for suicides among its members either, Shaw said. Indeed, Shaw said, the rate of suicides among other religions and groups would be higher. Highest of all is the suicide rate among psychiatrists, Shaw said.

Psychiatrists commit suicide twice as often as doctors in general, Shaw suggested. He produced copies of a Scientology published article suggesting that psychiatrists kill themselves more often than people in any other profession.

Scientologists do not support the use of psychoactive drugs or psychiatrists and psychologists. They contend that many of the world's problems are caused by the way the mental health establishment handles problems.

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