Hard to believe that last year alone, Scientology dominated the headlines with a slew of shocking stories.
Once considered a religion few outsiders knew about, Scientology has come to the forefront thanks to the one-two punch of HBO's acclaimed 2015 documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Leah Remini's popular A&E docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, blowing the lid wide open.
There were several events that rocked Scientology during 2017. It was great for The Handmaid's Tale star Elisabeth Moss, but Danny Masterson lost his role on a show after rape allegations. Remini continued exposing the religion, while another documentary filmmaker proved that there's still more to dig into.
Scientology was founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard and is now under the leadership of the mysterious David Miscavige. The cult-like religion has fought against accusations of abuse and brainwashing, but that has only drawn more scrutiny.
Here's a look at the biggest events of 2017 that shook Scientology.
Scientology is endlessly fascinating, and documentary filmmakers are attracted to exposing its secrets. Even after Alex Gibney's Going Clear, there's still unanswered questions. As Decider points out, Louis Theroux made his own film, My Scientology Movie, which features recreations of the alleged tales of abuse that have surfaced.
Theroux had the help of Marty Rathbun, the former Inspector General of the Church, who has to come face-to-face with pain he once caused. Rathbun also meets former members, who are still in pain from their experiences within Scientology.
My Scientology Movie was actually completed in 2015, but not released in the U.S. until 2017.
Elisabeth Moss always came up short at the Emmys for Mad Men, but she finally won for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. Coincidentally, the series is based on Margaret Atwood's novel about a cult-like society. The parallels to Scientology were not lost on observers.
While promoting The Handmaid's Tale and before the Emmys, there was speculation that it would cost her the award. She rarely talked about her religious beliefs, but when she did, she issued a defense of Scientology. In August, she was asked if The Handmaid's Tale made her think twice about the religion.
"Question though, does it make you think twice about Scientology? Both Gilead and Scientology both believe that all outside sources (aka news) are wrong or evil … it’s just very interesting," a fan asked her on Instagram.
“That’s actually not true at all about Scientology,” Moss replied. “Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level. Thanks for the interesting question!”
Remini says Moss is not allowed to talk to her.
Kevin Can Wait actress Leah Remini has not stopped trying to expose Scientology since she left. Her efforts culminated in Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. The A&E docuseries has been a big hit for the network, and features the actress interviewing former Church members alongside former Executive Director of the Office of Special Affairs Mike Rinder.
Although Remini still plans on doing a third season, Scientology leaders might be breathing a sigh of relief. She said earlier this month that some episodes of season three will look at other cults. One is expected to focus on Jehovah's Witnesses, while another will look at the much-more controversial NIXVM.
“I’m open to doing a season 3 in a different way," Remini told Entertainment Weekly. We’ve been getting an overwhelming amount of emails and people contacting us through [social media] about other cults that are similar [to Scientology], so I’m looking into that.”
Five women have accused actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson, who formerly appeared on That '70s Show and currently Netflix's The Ranch, of rape. After Kevin Spacey was fired from House of Cards when he was accused of sexual misconduct, people wondered why Masterson was still working for the streaming service. Masterson was finally fired on Dec. 5.
The Los Angeles Police Department started investigation allegations against Masterson in 2016, and they reportedly uncovered "overwhelming" evidence. But he has never faced charges. Remini told The Daily Beast in November that Scientology has close ties to the LAPD, and that's helped him avoid charges.
"The captain of [LAPD's Hollywood division], Cory Palka, goes to the Scientology Celebrity Centre often. There are pictures of him hanging at Celebrity Centre," Remini said.
Scientology is a big sponsor of the Hollywood police's Police Activities League (PAL) and Masterson has attended fundraising events in the past.
“Scientology is very slick in that it’s partnered in this Police Activities League with the Hollywood division, and every year around Christmastime Celebrity Centre International right on Franklin presents the Hollywood Police Department with a check for this Police Activities League, which gives back to children,” Remini told The Daily Beast. “What it’s done is it’s aligned itself as per its policies, because there are Scientology policies that say, ‘Safe-point yourself to the area police department because then nobody will attack your good works,’ so it’s all very pointed and calculated.”
Last year, the Oh No Ross & Carrie podcast, starring Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy, began a series called Ross & Carrie Audit Scientology. Over nine episodes, they took listeners on a trip through Scientology events, until they were kicked out. They also interviewed Theroux and former Scientologists during the series. They recently posted a 10th episode where they returned to the church.
One reason why the podcast was so fascinating is that it revealed how the Church works today. So much of what we hear in films and TV shows are from former members, but Ross and Carrie attempted to show how it works today. Rinder said the podcast was "revelatory."
Oh No Ross & Carrie have joined other cults and fringe science groups in the past, but their Scientology episodes remain a favorite with fans.
When Kevin Can Wait's second season started this fall, Remini replaced Erinn Hayes, whose character was killed off between seasons. With Hayes gone, the show now acts as a King of Queens reunion every night, as Remini co-stars with Kevin James.
The outrage over Hayes' departure continued into October, with some fans speculating that Scientology was orchestrating a campaign against the show. Surprisingly, Hayes appeared to agree.
"[You] know Scientology is behind bashing [Kevin Can Wait], right? They have an agenda. No hate here, just sayin,'" one fan asked Hayes.
"Very aware and don’t condone any of the bashing. Watch the show or don’t, but I find the personal [attacks] very ugly," Hayes replied.
Scientology denied the allegations.
“Whoever suggested to Ms. Hayes that these messages were from Scientologists is purposely misleading her and operating on an anti-religious agenda. This is pure bigotry," a spokesperson told Us Weekly.
Last month, former Scientologist Karen Schless Pressley claimed that the Church had a list of superstars they wanted to join the Church. She said she was the Commanding Officer of the Church's Celebrity Centre Network. She saw them use "down and dirty" tactics to get celebrities to join.
They hoped to get Demi Moore, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Sean Penn and others to join.
"We were always on the hunt for 'raw meat.' Our goal was to use existing celebrities to be the recruiters and we would teach them how to go out and contact people and bring them to understanding," Pressley said. "That is the process of being on the hunt for raw meat: contact, handling, salvage, bring to understanding."
Pressley's memoir, Escaping Scientology, An Insider's True Story, was published in September. She also appeared in an episode of Remini's series.
Laura Prepon, one of the stars on Netflix's Orange is the New Black, is also a Scientologist. In an episode of Scientology and the Aftermath, Remini included a scene of Prepon defending Scientology. She claims it doesn't teach members to discriminate against the LGBT community, despite reports to the contrary.
"Every Scientologist reads the same books," Remini tweeted as the episode aired. "Any one who says 'I never read that is a liar. As I was when I was trained as a Scientologist."
Prepon's comments were bashed by viewers and her fans. One person wrote that he'll never watch anything she's in again.
In 2015, Gawker published parts of Prepon's interview with the Scientology magazine Celebrity. In it, Prepon explained how she got involved in the religion.
"So when I first got into Scientology, I did Personal Values and Integrity and then Overcoming Ups and Downs in Life. These courses touched on the observations I was aware of when I was younger. It was right there in black and white. It was amazing, and I felt that finally something was speaking my language. It totally connected with me," the actress said. "Pretty soon after that I got onto the Purification Rundown, and I started moving up the Bridge."
On Dec. 22, the Clearwater, Florida City Council members shocked the Church of Scientology by stopping a land swap, reports TampaBay.com.
The Church thought it could trade a vacant downtown lot it bought to the city for three small parcels. But the trade was put on hold after engineering staff said the city might need the land for the future. Council members voted 4-1 to delay the deal.
The city council wants Church officials to come back to the negotiating table because it wants to use the Church-owned lot for retail parking. However, Church officials haven't responded to the calls.