Leah Remini, who wrote a memoir in 2015 about her decision to leave the Church of Scientology, premiered her new series on the topic on A&E Tuesday night. The series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, focuses on victims of the church’s alleged secretive abuse who are now speaking out about their experiences with the religion.
For The King of Queens actress, who was a member of the church for more than 30 years, the series is a way to help her make amends for the damage she caused while being part of the church that, Remini says, she “promoted, defended, and believed in most of my life.”
A&E runs text screens before each segment of the show that feature statements from the Church of Scientology, disputing the show’s and Remini’s stories. The church has painted her and others who have left the church as bitter people. A&E even has a website to post the church’s complete responses.
Here are five things that were revealed about Scientology from Tuesday night’s premiere episode.
1. Remini was severely berated after inquiring the whereabouts of Shelly Miscavige
In 2006, Remini began to question the church after asking a fellow attendee (top church official Tommy Davis) at Tom Cruise’s wedding where Michelle Miscavige, the wife of Scientology chief David Miscavige, was. The question was seen as a major infraction against the church’s hierarchy, as the church official did not think that Remini had the “right” to ask about the whereabouts of the church leader’s wife. Remini began to ask more calculated questions, which further angered the church. Her queries were proof, they said, that the actress had committed “crimes” against Scientology. She was subjected to interrogations on the e-meter, the organization’s device similar to a lie-detector, that purports to uncover spiritual transgressions. She was also billed for those services — usually upwards of several hundred dollars.
2. Church members are encouraged to lie to their parents, loved ones about signing ‘billion-year’ contracts
Scientology members can be as young as 12 to join the Sea Org, an unincorporated Scientology organization, which the Church of Scientology describes as a “fraternal religious order, comprising the church’s most dedicated members.” Members of the Sea Organization sign billion-year contracts, and their parents give up all rights to participate in their children’s lives. From the ages of 12-17, the members need their parents’ permission to sign up, but, according to former Sea Org member Amy Scobee, the church went behind her parents’ back and convinced her to join the Sea Org, which required quitting high school and working full-time for Scientology.
Her mother Bonnie, who was also a Scientologist, was not informed of her daughter’s pledge until the last minute and reluctantly signed the parental consent form required for underage members. Scobee also shared with Remini that she was instructed to lie to her father, who was not a member, by telling him she was leaving home to work in Paris as a model. When her father found out he was very angry, but it was already too late to reverse the pledge. He did not have a relationship with his daughter for 27 years, until she finally left the church in 2005.
3. Any crimes committed by Scientology members are handled internally by the church, not reported to authorities
Scobee shared with Remini that when she was 14 and working for Scientology, she was raped by her Scientologist boss. “This was statutory rape. And I was too afraid to tell anyone about it,” Scobee said. “They indoctrinated me that anything serious that goes on is handled internally. It happened to me, so I must have done something that caused it. I believed it.”
The man confessed to his wife, and then officials at the church, who didn’t report him to authorities and also didn’t tell Scobee’s parents what had happened. Scientologists are taught that crimes committed by members are supposed to be handled by the church because they believe the criminal justice system doesn’t work. They are also taught that the bad things that happen to them are a result of their own past “crimes.”
4. The Church of Scientology’s “Pope” allegedly abuses other members
Miscavige was officially named the head of the Church of Scientology in 1987 after the death of founder L. Ron Hubbard. Miscavige is known by the title “chairman of the board.” Cruise, Scientology’s most famous member, considers Miscavige a close friend, and Miscavige was best man at his wedding to Katie Holmes. Miscavige is considered Scientology’s version of the Pope — he is rarely seen but always highly praised. But many Sea Org members like Scobee, who have spent years working alongside Miscavige, say he’s a volatile person who, they allege, uses physical abuse to dominate the members and humiliate his staff.
“He’ a very angry man,” Scobee says. “If you said something that didn’t please him he would go off on you. If you were a man, he’d likely hit you, knock you down, choke you … I witnessed that on at least a dozen occasions.”
Scobee explains that for years she rationalized the violent behaviour, telling herself that it was just “because we’re clearing the planet, because we have no time, because Miscavige has most of the pressure, because people are failing at their jobs and he’s having to do it, that’s why it’s OK that he is beating people.”
“I was rationalizing,” Scobee continued. “My mind would immediately justify why this crap was OK. Then I had a blinding realization. I realized that what I was doing was rationalizing insanities.”
“Can you imagine if someone said the Pope hit somebody? C’mon! That’s insanity!” Remini says, exasperated. “What should she do? Write a report that David Miscavige is beating people? To who? There’s no one above him. Now what?”
5. There is a Scientology job that requires keeping ‘celebrities happy’
Scobee’s duties were to run the Celebrity Centres, to recruit celebrities to the religion and to keep the stars happy and surrounded by Scientologists. She said that she spent a lot of time making sure Tom Cruise’s household staff was made up entirely of Scientologists, specifically, Sea Org members.
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The Church of Scientology set up its own website to respond to the stories told throughout Remini’s series, and has issued a statement alleging that Remini attempted to extort large sums of money from the Church:
“Leah Remini is doing this show for the money, just as she profited from her book. In addition, she attempted to extort the Church by first demanding $500,000, followed by an additional $1 million, because the Church invoked its First Amendment right to respond to her false claims with the truth. This shows the extent Leah Remini is willing to go to in order to distort the truth about Scientology. For the Church’s perspective and the truth about the bullies she now supports, go to www.leahreminiaftermath.com.”
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath airs on A&E Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET.