Nov 1, 2015

Leah Remini Talks Scientology Split On '20/20': What We Didn't Learn

Ellen Killoran
October 31, 2015

Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood
Available Now
The actress Leah Remini appeared on 20/20 Friday night to discuss her 2013 split from the Church of Scientology, of which was she had been a nearly lifelong member. Critics of the church welcomed the defection, hoping perhaps that Remini might be able to expose some of the church’s controversial practices. While there have been ongoing accusations about abuse inside the church for decades, the leadership has remained largely unaccountable.

But the 20/20 interview, conducted in advance of the Tuesday release of Remini’s memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood, only skimmed over the questionable living conditions and labor practices of Scientology’s Sea Org Institute (which expelled Remini when she was a teenager) and didn’t provide much in the way of new information about the church’s most notorious mystery: Where is Shelly Miscavige?

Shelly, the wife of the Church of Scientology’s leader David Miscavige, has not been seen in public in a decade. She is widely believed to have been banished to a Scientology compound in Lake Arrowhead, California, but the conditions of her residence there remain unknown.

Tony Ortega, a critic and scholar of the the church, published a blog post in September with his most up-to-date information from sources inside the Church:

We believe that she’s still at the [Church of Spiritual Technology] headquarters [in California], and she may or may not be resigned to her fate. We’ve been assured by former Scientology executives that David Miscavige put her there after making her a non-person, and that he will never let her leave.

Remini’s relationship with the church began to unravel in 2006 at the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, where the questioned the absence of Miscavige’s wife, who she said in the 20/20 interview had always been present at major events. Remini later pressed the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate Shelly’s apparent disappearance. The LAPD reported that they visited Shelly and said she was alive but did not want to make any public statements. And that was the end of it.

In the 20/20 interview and in excerpts of the book published by the New York Daily News, Remini discussed other aspects of the Cruise-Holmes wedding that she found problematic. She said on 20/20 that she was pressured by Cruise to invite her friends Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, believing that he wanted to recruit them into the church, and that the wedding organizers attempted to keep Remini and Lopez separated throughout the festivities. In the book, she wrote of finding Cruise and Holmes’ infant daughter, Suri, crying on the bathroom floor in the presence of three unnamed women, while Holmes was nowhere to be seen.

This is all very bizarre indeed, but also suggests that Remini’s break from the church had more to do than just her interrogation of Miscavige’s whereabouts. Still, Remini said that she was inquiring into the presumed disappearance right up until the break with the church, and it appears to have been the straw the broke the camel’s back on both sides.* 20/20 also mentioned, briefly, that the church claimed Remini did not leave Scientology entirely of her own accord, something Remini denies.

Perhaps it was naive to expect that a single Scientology defector would have the resources and influence to push for more of an investigation into Miscavige’s well-being, especially as Remini’s family also abandoned the church when she did. (But I, for one, was hoping Remini’s 20/20 appearance might provide more insight than the little we already have.) Nonetheless, it feels like a discouraging development that one of Miscagive’s presumed advocates might be giving up. Perhaps once the book is published, we’ll have more information. Or maybe we’ll just have to wait for another powerful Scientologist, one who had been on better terms with the church, to defect. Here’s hoping.

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