Scientologists Fight To Zip Some Loose Computer Lips

ARLINGTON, Va. - Two grim-faced men in suits knocked on Arnaldo Lerma's door and shoved a legal document at him. The confession of sorts stated that Lerma recanted criticism of the Church of Scientology and was a failure as a member of the religion.

Lerma didn't sign the three-page document. "It's Orwellian in the extreme, isn't it?" he said.

Lerma's use of computers is what angered officials of the religion that teaches technology can help solve the problems of mankind.

In September, Lerma began placing court documents describing alleged wrongdoing by the group - and some of its most sacred texts - on international computer bulletin boards.

Now Lerma, 44, and another Scientology critic say the group is systematically destroying messages and documents placed online. Last Thursday, former Scientology minister Dennis Erlich told the FBI that someone had broken into his private electronic mailbox.

The documents Lerma distributed include descriptions of abuse by former Scientology officials, claims that Scientology brainwashes and defrauds members and exacts reprisals against critics, and details of how people can achieve the theological growth that Scientologists say transforms people into near-gods.

Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said the religious documents were among Scientologists' most sacred scriptures. "He deliberately defiled them in the computer, equivalent of desecrating a house of worship with offensive graffiti," she said.

Pouw said some bulletin-board operators have removed Scientology documents at the church's request. She said the church will consider legal action against Lerma if he distributes any more documents.

She confirmed that church representatives visited Lerma, saying the church was trying to resolve things without legal action.