Former Scientologist shares familiar tale of force-feeding
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 1998
LEARWATER -- A former Scientologist from Denmark said Friday that he helped force bread, fruit and liquids into the throat of an unconscious woman as part of an effort help her recover from a mental breakdown.
Karsten Lorenzen's detailed account at a news conference held by a group of Scientology critics resembles the experience of Lisa McPherson, as documented by state investigators and Clearwater police. McPherson was the 36-year-old Scientologist whose 1995 death has resulted in criminal charges of abuse and practicing medicine without a license against the Church of Scientology in Clearwater.
McPherson, too, was recovering from a mental breakdown, and records show church staffers forced medicine and food into her throat.
Church officials said Friday they had not fully investigated the Denmark man's story but called it another in a series of unsupported and fantastic allegations by critics who, they contend, have serious credibility problems.
They said force-feeding is not a prescribed procedure in Scientology.
They noted that the woman is alive, and they produced a document they said was a statement from her. It indicated she left the church but quoted her as saying she supported Scientology and did not blame Scientology for her experience. It did not address the question of force-feeding.
The news conference and Scientology's response were part of an unusual weekend in Clearwater.
About 50 Scientology critics are in town to mark the third anniversary of McPherson's death. They are picketing the church, speaking about what they say are its abuses and expressing their delight at the criminal charges filed Nov. 13 by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.
The church, rather than confront the group as it has in past years, says it will try to keep its members away from a series of pickets today and Sunday and a candlelight vigil tonight.
Lorenzen, 23, also told his story this week in several hours of sworn depositions in the wrongful death lawsuit that McPherson's family filed in Tampa against the church. Lorenzen said the woman was a Scientology staffer who became mentally unstable in May 1996 while training in Clearwater. He said she cut her wrists and was escorted back to Denmark by one of the same church staffers -- Valerie Demange -- who participated in McPherson's care six months earlier.
The woman was taken to a Scientologist's apartment north of Copenhagen, Lorenzen said. One morning during the four-day episode, he said, the woman would not wake up. Demange called a supervisor, who advised them to feed the woman, he said.
Lorenzen said he propped up the woman, sat behind her and reached forward to move her jaw in chewing motions while Demange placed food in the woman's mouth.
He said he also massaged her throat to get her to swallow. He said the woman remained unconscious but was coughing and spitting. The meal consisted of two pieces of bread, a banana, orange juice and a glass of "Cal-Mag," a drink of calcium gluconate, magnesium carbonate, cider vinegar and water that Scientologists believe is healthful.
Lorenzen said he has nightmares about the incident and thinks of it when he sees pictures of McPherson.
McPherson, according to charging documents, turned "sweaty and red in the face" when Scientology staffers held her down and force-fed her aspirin and Benadryl with a large syringe. Also, church records say one Scientologist held McPherson's nose so she would swallow food placed in her mouth.
Lorenzen appeared overcome at Friday's news conference, sobbing on the shoulder of another Scientology critic, Jesse Prince.
Lorenzen said he plans to return to Denmark next week, where he said he is an actor who performs as a clown. He said he was a Scientology staffer for five months in 1996 and left the church after the incident.
"I consider this guy another one of the stable who make outrageous allegations without any documentation to support it," said Mike Rinder, a top Scientology official. "I think these people literally sit around, drink and think up what the next outrageous thing is that they're going to say to get them on the news."
Rinder referred to the woman's statement, saying: "Who is Karsten Lorenzen to be crying about her when she is not crying about her? . . . She's fine. She's doing well."
At the news conference, former Scientologist Stacy Young said the church's manipulative and abusive treatment of members belies its "slick public image of help."
Later Friday, Rinder played two videos touting Scientology's education and drug rehabilitation programs. "This is what Scientologists do," he said. "It just isn't what those people out on the sidewalk say."