The Church of Scientology has been rocked by accusations from one of its former senior executives that the religion is becoming a hollow moneymaking machine run by an autocratic ruler.
Debbie Cook, a former executive in Scientology’s “Sea Organisation” – its clergy – wrote a New Year’s email to 12,000 Church members detailing her concerns.
Ms Cook, 50, accused David Miscavige, the chairman, of turning the religion into a fund-raising machine and dismantling the mechanisms in place to prevent too much individual control. She also accused Mr Miscavige, 51, of straying away from the principles of L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction author who founded the Church in the 1950s.
Followers of Scientology believe that humans are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature, and should embark on a course of “spiritual rehabilitation”. More controversially, they also believe that an intergalactic despot once brought billions of prisoners to earth in a fleet of spacecraft, and that the key teachings are not revealed until the faithful have paid thousands of dollars to the Church.
“We all have a stake in this,” she wrote. “It is simply not possible to read the LRH references and not see the alterations and violations that are currently occurring.
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“I dedicated my entire adult life to supporting LRH and the application of LRH technology, and if I ever had to look LRH in the eye I wouldn’t be able to say I did everything I could to Keep Scientology Working if I didn’t do something about it now.”
Mr Miscavige, whose celebrity supporters include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa-Marie Presley, is accused of heavy-handed fund-raising and pressuring the Church’s members to empty their pockets. Ms Cook claims he spends millions on lavish facilities that then lie empty, and centralising power.
Other former members of the controversial cult — some of whom still practice Scientology, but now outside the ‘Church’ — have also leveled accusations of physical abuse against cult leader David Miscavige.
More recently a former Scientologist says David Miscavige sent her to Scientology’s cruise ship when she was 17, in an effort to keep her mother from taking her away from Scientology. The woman says she was a prisoner on the ship for 12 years.
Among the countless people who have left the cult is Jenna Miscavige, David Miscavige’s niece.
In recent years many high-profile members have left the cult. While some keep their faith in Scientology they speak out against what they consider the hi-jacking of their religion by David Miscavige and his supporters.
Most recently the Tampa Bay Times (formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times) — which has published several investigative reports exposing the Church of Scientology to daylight — posted an indepth series titled, “Inside Scientology: The Money Machine.”
In her e-mail, Debbie Cook calls on members not to give any more donations unless it can be justified by specific writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Cook could not be reached Sunday for an interview, having emphasized in her letter that she was appealing directly to fellow Scientologists. She told them she did not want to involve the media.
The letter promises to send shock waves through the community of Scientologists loyal to the church after more than two years of unflattering media reports about church management — from allegations of violence in the top ranks to repeated stories about the church’s controlling nature.
Other high-ranking figures have left in recent years and spoken out. Most notable were Mike Rinder, the former church spokesman, and Marty Rathbun, a top executive who worked for years at Miscavige’s side.
But Cook was far better known among average parishioners and she enjoyed an impeccable image, linked as she was to the church’s desire to make Flag an upscale and spiritually uplifting destination for all Scientologists.
Some of her Scientologist friends reacted positively on her Facebook page. Others reacted angrily, saying the online discussion was unseemly and should be handled quietly within the church. Still others said they didn’t believe it, insisting Cook’s Facebook and email accounts had been hacked by church critics.
As the debate simmered on Sunday, Cook pulled the discussion thread from her Facebook page. She also posted this message to the page: “Dear Friends. Yes, the e-mail was written by me. No I am not connected to anyone not in good standing. I did it because of my love and respect for LRH (L. Ron Hubbard) and the desire to see us correct situations that need correcting within our group.”
Cook referred in her letter to the church’s recent publicity troubles, saying Scientologists had weathered many storms. “I am sorry that I am the one telling you, but a new storm is upon us. Its waves are already in the media and the world around us.”