Jul. 17, 2012, 12:05 PM
Since the early days of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientologists have tried recruiting celebrities. But now the strategy has backfired in the form of media scrutiny spurred by the divorce of Tom Cruise.
They promised them connections and A-list roles in exchange for their endorsements. In return, the church imagined they'd get credibility and serious cash, Janet Reitman wrote in her book "Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion."
But with the highly public split of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, that strategy has backfired. Media outlets are paying attention—and the public is weirded out by what they learn about the religion.
Ortega has led coverage of the church's scandals.
"It's already gone through several different crises," said journalist Tony Ortega, a longtime church watcher. "Scientology is splitting apart, it has been for several years. An organization like that is always going to go through a certain amount of churn. But what's happening is really loyal, longtime Scientologists are leaving. It's gathering momentum."
"These stories are getting picked up," said Ortega, editor of the Village Voice who has written numerous articles on Scientology that are posted on the Voice's website. "It's more than just celebrity news. All this stuff would be bad anyway, but with the divorce going on, a lot more people are paying attention."
One of the most prominent people to leave the church is Marty Rathbun, who used to be Cruise's counselor. He now writes a blog educating people about what he says is wrong with the religion. And Tanja Castle, a former secretary to leader David Miscavige recently described how she fled the compound over a razor-sharp fence.
With these stories and more going public, the church might be facing a crisis it can't recover from. Even Cruise, who was the most famous and sought-after actor in the world when he joined the church, is now routinely in tabloid reports criticizing his fervor for the religion.