CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

The Church of Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force

A Study by Juha Pentikäinen (Chair of the Department of the Study of Religions, University of Helsinki, Finland), Jurgen F.K. Redhardt, and Michael York (Bath Spa University College)

The Programme

Once begun with the programme, the individual has taken a significant step in his life and undertaken a major commitment that will occupy his full attention for the next year or so. Nearly all RPF members' lives are divided between physical work for eight hours a day and study or co-auditing for five hours a day. The only exceptions are those trained and proficient in the technical skills required not only to administer but also to supervise auditing, a task that requires a precise and confident command of Scientology principles. Because they are held responsible for supervising the auditing delivered by each pair of twins on the RPF, the work schedule of these RPF members consists of only half the daily time allocated to other RPF members. During the other half they are engaged in verifying that the auditing of their fellow RPF members is being conducted satisfactorily and is producing the desired result. Therefore they conduct their own co-auditing at a different period of the day.

Working Conditions

We examined the working conditions of RPF members in both Great Britain and Denmark. Those on the programme were moving around freely and without supervision beyond that which is routine on a construction or labour site. There were no guards, nor any physical constraints to prevent any one of them from simply "dropping tools" and walking away. In Denmark, the main work we observed took place in the "Nordland Hotel" - a Church of Scientology-owned building in the middle of Copenhagen - where many staff live and eat. In addition, Church parishioners visiting Copenhagen to take part in Scientology counselling and training services pay to reside at the Nordland Hotel and may remain there days or weeks depending on the duration of their services at the Church. The main church building is only five minutes away on foot and is situated just off the central square in Copenhagen.

The RPF's main work in Copenhagen was to renovate the living areas of both Church staff and parishioners. We observed a number of rooms that had been renovated to very high standards. While we were present, RPF members were working on the corridor, relaying the floor and painting the walls.

In England, we observed members of the RPF clearing damage made by recent storms. A large stage set they had completed the previous month was still available for viewing.

We found no evidence that any RPF members entertained complaints about the work they were doing. It appeared to us that they were enjoying it.

Study Conditions

The areas where the RPF studied were also visited. In Copenhagen, the study and auditing areas were situated in the basement of the Nordland Hotel. Two rooms had been assigned for this purpose. The rooms were not aesthetic and the access corridor contained large pipes for heating or other purposes. However, the rooms were clean, dry, and had adequate lighting and air circulation. The RPF members studying in these locations appeared satisfied that the facilities were adequate for the purpose. The materials they needed for their studies were available in adequate quantities, including paper, pens, and dictionaries.

In England, both dormitories doubled as auditing areas. A separate room had been set aside for study. Although it was not ideal to conduct auditing in the sleeping area (no auditing, of course, occurred during actual sleeping periods), this usage appeared to be simply utilization of available space. The classroom was again well stocked with the materials necessary for study.

Sleeping Conditions

We also viewed the areas where RPF members slept. The living spaces were located in the same building as, and immediately adjacent to, those of non-RPF Sea Organisation members. Indeed, in Denmark, RPF members and other SO members slept on the same floor. In England, the RPF's living quarters were situated in a separate wing of the building, but with ready access to other staff quarters.

RPF members slept in dormitories of between five and ten, with male and female areas separate. All dormitories were dry and warm, with sufficient airflow and lighting. The sleeping conditions did not differ significantly from those of other members of the Sea Organisation, although of course a married Sea Organisation couple live together as man and wife in a private room.

There is no doubt that the lifestyle differs from that of most people in today’s world. When viewed in comparison with the religious orders of other faith traditions, however, it may be considered routine.

[NB: The living quarters in England also boasted a medium-sized swimming pool, a large gymnasium, a billiard table, a canteen and several areas for lounging and socialising. All were well maintained. Although RPF members were not permitted to use these facilities, with the exception of the canteen, we mention them to indicate the standard of living in the immediate vicinity of their living quarters.]

Technical Programme

This is the most difficult aspect of the programme to explain and requires some reference to some basic features of Scientology theology and practice.

One of the tenets of Scientology is that individuals who have committed "destructive", "unethical" acts, roughly equivalent to what, in Christian parlance, might be termed sin, become spiritually estranged from those persons who are the recipients of the harmful act. When a person performs acts of a harmful character as part of a continuing cycle, his/her ability to function as an ethical human being gradually contracts. If the sinful acts are perpetrated against a group to which s/he has given allegiance, a sense of disassociation may become such that s/he chooses to leave the group permanently. Scientology confessional theology identifies the cause of these destructive actions as being rooted in the individual’s past spiritual existence, and the auditing administered as part of the RPF programme is designed to locate and dispose of what are termed "destructive or evil intentions". In this context, by "evil" is meant "the opposite of good, and is anything which is destructive more than it is constructive along any of the various dynamics use ('areas of life' or 'urge toward survival' [16]). A thing which does more destruction than construction is evil from the viewpoint of the individual, the future, group, species, life, or mest (matter, energy, space or time) that it destroys." [17]

The first step of the RPF programme addresses recent and current ethical lapses that must be dealt with before further advancement can be made. The second phase is directed towards raising the individual's plane of spiritual existence, and specifically, towards the resolution of "destructive or evil intentions" buried in the person's past but still affecting his conduct in the present. It is described as an extensive training and auditing programme that, according to the Church of Scientology, will enable the individual to locate, identify and resolve the cause of the behaviour that brought him to the RPF in the first place. Upon completion of the programme, he will be able to resume his responsibilities within the Church, this time fulfilling them satisfactorily, with no repetition of the ethically dysfunctional behaviour that had disabled him prior to the RPF.

It is not, of course, our purpose to evaluate the theological aspects of the programme. However, the individuals we interviewed who had completed or were approaching completion of the programme conveyed a strong impression of being bright, happy confident people. Their testimonies reinforced this impression. All the RPF members we interviewed expressed confidence that the programme they were doing, or about to do, would significantly improve their lives.


There is a hierarchy within the RPF. The most senior member, with responsibility for its smooth operation, called the "Bosun" is nominated within the group. S/He is assisted by a "Master at Arms" whose duty is to ensure that RPF members abide by the ethical standards required of them. There are also two sections, one to oversee the work projects and the other to monitor each RPF member's progress through the educational and counselling steps that form the backbone of the programme.

Senior to all of these is the "RPF In Charge." This position is not held by a member of the RPF but by a staff from the Sea Organisation. It is he or she who carries the final responsibility for taking care of the RPF and making sure its members complete the programme.

Senior ecclesiastical staff trained in auditing, both in the country in which the RPF is located and at the Church of Scientology's international headquarters in Los Angeles, perform an advisory function to ensure that the programme is conducted correctly.

It should be emphasised, however, that RPF members regard themselves as a self-contained unit and told us that they did not feel controlled or "led" by a remote "supervising authority". Indeed, while Church authorities monitor the programme, the RPF's own members administer it. The show is theirs to run and to make successful or not, a bootstraps approach that derives from the RPF motto, "The RPF is what we make it. The RPF is where we make it." [18]


The programme is clearly perceived as a means of exerting discipline on the group. All groups have ways of imposing discipline. An obvious comparison is a Christian monastic order. Monasteries have codes and procedures for enforcing breaches of discipline, the Vatican has regulations concerning their priesthood and monastic discipline. Members of contemplative orders, both in the West and the Far East, enter monasteries where rules and silence are enforced so rigidly that telephone communication and even letters to and from relatives are prohibited or restricted to a few feast days. As a member of the Franciscan Order in the late 1950s, the American scholar Frank Flinn was allowed no phone communication with his relatives for the entire year of his novitiate. He was not allowed to attend his grandfather's funeral. He was permitted to receive only one letter a month, and even that correspondence was subject to prior inspection by the master of novices [19]. The Sea Organisation imposes no such restrictions of comparable severity and even the discipline mandated within the RPF programme is relatively mild by comparison.

We were referred (by one of the RPF members) to a policy written by Hubbard entitled "The Historical Precedence of Ethics". Hubbard cites early codes of regulation and right conduct of Buddhists (from about 2500 years ago) and a summary taken from the 1965 Buddhist Annual. This article explains that, "rules of conduct are intended for the rehabilitation of an erring monk rather than to punish him"; the creation of a Chapter of Monks (a Buddhist internal disciplinary board) and various actions identified as "misbehaviour" or ethical misconduct along with penalties and amends. Evidently Hubbard was aware of the long-established religious practice of using discipline to govern right and wrong conduct and has developed and adapted this tradition for the Church of Scientology. [20]

The primary function of the RPF, however, is a redemptive one. The discipline is therefore not conceived as an enforced system of penalties but operates within the context of the RPF's redemptive function to 'smooth the road'. Participants are made fully aware of and agree to the conditions of the programme before they are permitted to embark on it. There are no control systems that prevent a person from leaving. As we saw, anyone is able to leave at a moment's notice. In Copenhagen especially, where the programme is located in the city centre, it is ludicrous to suggest that anyone could be restrained with no resulting complaints to the police or other fallout. In Britain, the RPF programme exists at the Church's centre in the Sussex countryside, but it would still be easy for an RPF member to disappear into the trees and walk one or two kilometres to the nearest town.

The disciplinary rules to regulate the activities of the group members may be summarized as follows:

  1. A tight daily schedule is followed unless there are valid reasons for change.
  2. Limited interaction with the other centre members (though communication is open and free through letters, when other members wish to talk with the person or on special occasions).
  3. No sexual relationships for the duration of the programme.
  4. No free time except for special occasions (of course, personal hygiene and short breaks are permitted).

There is also an internal disciplinary practice that RPF members themselves deploy against other members who break the rules. Hubbard made a comparison to monastic life when he said, "Having a system of penance, or making up for a wrong that was done, has long been a hallmark of religions. While we do not believe in any form of flagellation (priests flogging themselves or others with whips) or similar infliction of pain or duress, members of the RPF have found the simple use of running laps around their work site, or doing push-ups or sit-ups, to be an easy and effective means of maintaining discipline. This is their discipline of rocks and shoals [21] ...Rocks and shoals were not intended to be, nor have they been used as, punishment over the years. Even though they require physical exertion they were never meant to cause pain or duress and in fact they don’t…" The penance for lateness, poor hygiene, and lying are laid out. The offender would have to run between 1/4th and 1/8th of a mile. Push-ups may be required for lesser offences. The penalty is run on a circular route, presumably so it is not doubled by the return distance). [22]

A further disciplinary practice known as the "RPF's RPF" is essentially a last portal of opportunity for RPF members who, in cases of extreme unethical behaviour or demonstrated disdain for the RPF, have disqualified themselves from the programme. Its length may vary between 2 days and 2 or 3 weeks. There is a different ratio within the RPF's RPF between physical work and study/auditing. Participants do an additional two and a half hours physical work and correspondingly a lesser period of study. This shift in the ratio has been seen to have positive therapeutic value. The purpose of this RPF's RPF is to bring about an awareness by the person to realize that he or she must take responsibility for being on the programme. This would involve the participant and his or her twin who, during this period, are segregated from the rest of the participants. The rationale for involving both partners is to make the non-offending twin aware of his or her own failure of responsibility for the failures of the other twin and to ensure that the offending twin has supportive companionship. During the investigation this special procedure occurred at both centres with positive results. Once again, any participant is free to opt out of this sub-programme.

The dietary requirements and conditions of interaction with non-members etc. are carefully defined, and here again, the RPF programme has many resemblances to the systems of other religious traditions. As far as other world religions are concerned, specific similarities may be found in another ascetic religion - Buddhism. One RPF member made such a comparison [23] and Mr. Hubbard placed importance and value on Buddhist tradition by citing and reprinting a Buddhist text on ethical standards and the rehabilitation of a monk years before the RPF programme was initiated.

Certain Buddhist and Christian monastic orders require an erring member to complete a regimen of exercise and training, as defined by the order, before re-admittance as a full member. These processes may include in depth reading and study of the principles of the religion, physical work and training, meditation and other spiritual exercises, and possibly also a period of hermetic contemplation.

From the interviews, it was apparent that the participants had much greater opportunity to concentrate on their spiritual counselling in the RPF than in their previous careers in the Church of Scientology. In seclusion, as it were, they were able to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of every day life and focus on achieving redemptive goals. This concept, of course, is a traditional one. Within Christianity there are hermits called anchorites who withdraw from society to devote themselves to prayer and penance. Many Christian saints lived this way, including St. Anthony, who lived in solitude in the deserts of Egypt and Syria, before emerging to preach. St. Benedict, founder of monasticism in the west, began as a hermit and founded the Benedictine Order of monks living in the community. Hindus expect their most dedicated members to take on the discipline of a "sannyasa", who renounces family and wealth and spends the rest of his days meditating in secluded areas to attain spiritual release from earthly entanglements. Women too have adopted the secluded life, the best known English anchoress being Mother Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 14th century.

In both centres, we were informed of people who had voluntarily left the RPF programme. No case was reported that their departure had caused any significant dispute within the group. There were cases where people had returned to the programme. Two of those interviewed subsequently left voluntarily.

Indeed, while a study by Professor Stephen Kent [24] refers to the testimony of former members who claim knowledge of the programme (mostly during the mid 1980s, ten to fifteen years earlier than his study was written) and complain of degrading conditions and forcible confinement, we were unable to find any member of the RPF who remotely felt this way. On the contrary, every participant was told that he could leave the programme whenever he or she felt necessary, and these members attested that they were happy doing it.

The Kent study also alleged that members had to make "forced confessions of past sins". When we asked participants about this allegation, they explained that their auditing is based on a partnership system with someone else in the RPF. Confession of one’s past misdeeds is part of the programme but is never forced. It could only benefit the person if they were willing. None was ever required to engage in public discussion of their, or another’s, past deeds, and the information, in alignment with the normal standards of Scientology spiritual counselling, was confidential and could never be accessed by anyone other than the auditor and the technical staff assisting him or her.

One of the most significant restrictions concerns the interaction with the rest of the Sea Organization, many of whose members are personal friends of RPF participants. The restrictions were felt by some RPF participants as difficult and even painful at times. However, they made clear that they had known about and agreed to them in advance. Far stricter stipulations are required of Carthusian and Cistercian nuns who are obliged to keep silent except when speech is indispensable. [25]

Many RPF members emphasised that the restrictions benefited them. Participants often told us that the absence of social contacts gave them the chance to concentrate on completing their RPF programme. This was especially true in England, where we were told that the lack of opportunity to engage in socialising outside the programme acted as an incentive to complete as quickly as possible.

It became clear in our fieldwork that while discipline was tight, deviations are usually permitted when necessary. Visiting family or attending events of importance were not forbidden if an RPF participant had indicated a wish to participate. Such requests had been approved and in several cases short or long leaves from the programme had occurred. One member spent two weeks in Chile to attend the golden wedding anniversary of his parents. Another member left the programme for more than two years to care for his mother afflicted with cancer.

The programme is therefore seen as, and is directly comparable to, a "retreat" in the monastic sense, where withdrawal from the everyday hustle and bustle of life is a requisite in order to resolve inner conflict.

Those doing the programme considered that the benefits accruing from successful participation outweigh the disadvantages. The reality of these benefits was confirmed by those who had completed. Many described the considerable spiritual change and reversal of previously low ethical standards they had experienced in their lives.


The authors of this study are aware of the possible criticisms and alleged potential shortcomings of this investigation. However, the study has persisted for a year or longer, and in all cases we have been satisfied with the cooperation we received with our project. We have been able to conduct follow-up interviews, and we have all individually collaborated our independent findings through interviews and direct observations.

The Rehabilitation Project Force should be considered a programme available only to a very small group of people. It may concern only the most dedicated of Scientologists, members of the Sea Organisation, who have given their lives to their religion. We have found that it is an intensive programme of study, spiritual counselling and physical work that can take anywhere between one and a few years.

Its purpose is to give those members who have committed serious wrongful acts or have engaged in severely unethical conduct a "second chance" to remain in the Sea Organisation. Anyone embarking on the programme is informed of the conditions, rules, regulations, restrictions and potential benefits before starting, and the person signs an attestation that participation in the programme is of his or her free will.

Because we were aware of criticisms of the programme, specifically by Professor Stephen A. Kent, we examined his main claims and included them into our fieldwork questions. Based on our first-hand observations and interviews, we are unable to concur with his evaluations. Specifically we found no evidence of physical constraints or coercive means to get or keep people on the programme. Anyone may leave the RPF at any time, and some have done so without completing the programme (and others have returned to it after a while). Some of the people we interviewed had indeed left the programme during the year of our investigation, and, in two cases, people we had interviewed had returned to the programme to complete it satisfactorily. Anyone who exits the programme or chooses not to do it in the first place may remain a parishioner of the Church of Scientology, even though s/he leaves the Sea Organisation. No conditions are attached to departure beyond the usual procedure for any departure from a Church of Scientology staff.

Our empirical findings are that there is no evidence that any fundamental rights are violated. Basic needs are taken care of. The individual agrees to any restrictions and may reject them at any time. We surmise that part of the difficulty that the Church encounters in connection with the RPF stems from a vocabulary that Mr. Hubbard employed that is now incommensurate with today's usage.

As our interviews indicate, the programme is physically and spiritually challenging and has to be done intensively. Those doing the RPF have agreed to the conditions as they find the programme a necessary means to resolve serious difficulties in their lives. Those who have done the RPF attest that they have achieved or are achieving their goals and have resolved the problems that led them to the RPF in the first place. We are aware of the many criticisms and allegations that have been made against the programme and the evidence that we have uncovered in no way supports these.

One discovery that the researchers made during this investigation was that progress within the RPF programme and development towards the state of Clear and spiritual advancement beyond Clear as taught and sponsored by the Church are not contradictory, but one can continue and advance in both processes simultaneously.

There are two Sea Organisation centres and RPF programmes in Europe - one in Denmark and one in UK. Our study is based on interviews and observations in both of these. Some proposals were expressed in comments by graduates of the programme itself. [26]

Some differences were found between the two centres. The Copenhagen group is more socially cohesive and more expressive of working as a team. People in Copenhagen seemed to enjoy their teamwork and the practical exercises under the guidance of a skilled carpenter. They enjoyed the results displayed in their handicraft and were proud of their achievements. In the United Kingdom, we found people working as a team, mostly outdoors. Auditing and counselling took place in a classroom circumstance and sleeping quarters doubled as an auditing area (when not used as sleeping quarters). In Copenhagen the study quarters were separate from the sleeping quarters. There was little difference between the sleeping conditions of RPF members and those of other Sea Org members. RPF discipline functioned according to the same codes in both locations.

10 people have graduated and 2 are on the verge of completion in the UK, and in Copenhagen there are 3 graduates and 2 close to graduation. Of the ten UK graduates, two were rescinded and the persons returned to complete the programme. In addition, at the Saint Hill Centre, ten people left the programme without completion either through self-decision or through invitation. This has indicated to the researchers the flexibility and open policy of the RPF.

We found that in England the programme was more concentrated on people wanting to complete the programme rapidly. This emphasis has not been so apparent in Copenhagen, where team members seemed to enjoy their practical work and camaraderie. We surmise the possibility that the lower graduation rate in England during our period of study was due to this imbalance that we did not find in the Copenhagen centre. We note also that Copenhagen has implemented structural changes that have since encouraged more completion and graduation.

The size of the programme needs some consideration. Both European programmes appeared to be quite small compared to those on the American continent where there are about 100 practitioners. The programme at the Saint Hill centre that initially had 33 members now only has 16. On the other hand, the centre in Copenhagen had 29 at time of writing. During our follow-up study in Copenhagen we learned that the person holding the position of RPF In Charge had changed since our previous visit. The proposal uniting these two centres came forward in the interviews with the current directors of both RPFs.

Particular problems during our follow-up period seem to concern the choice of a suitable partner for progressing through the programme. This resulted in an increased delay for some participants of the programme. A completion period of between one year and one year and a half was recommended as ideal by the director and the participants. The programme director feels that even more ideally people ought to be able to complete in a six-month period.

In our field work we were surprised how little coordination and discussion took place between the RPF coordinators and within the Church about the workings of the programme. It might be good to have more facilitators, especially technical personnel including a graduate of the programme itself, to coordinate the programme. It became clear that those who were in charge of the project had met only occasionally, for example, when trying to find suitable "twins" in order to improve the auditing partnerships.

The ordinary Church members know seemingly little about the history and philosophy behind the project which may cause some misunderstandings and problems inside the centres. There is need for more openness and public relations to dispel misconceptions within the Church and outside it.



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