Scientology's summer of hell

With the Cruise marriage split, the 60th anniversary of L Ron Hubbard's cult movement is going from bad to worse

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The Independent US

Suddenly, being called a "cult" seems the least of Scientology's worries. The movement is already facing a summer of high-profile court cases, bitter defections, blockbuster exposés and members bringing the so-called religion into disrepute. Now its 60th-anniversary year has brought the divorce of its two most high-profile proponents.

Worse, there were reports yesterday that Katie Holmes's decision to walk out on Tom Cruise was linked to her actor husband's involvement with Scientology. According to the celebrity website TMZ, she was concerned Cruise would drag their six-year-old daughter, Suri, deep into the movement. The reports throw the spotlight once again on the belief system that promises members "spiritual rehabilitation" through counselling sessions described as "auditing".

Holmes, who was brought up a Catholic and enrolled Suri in a Catholic pre-school in 2009, is reportedly filing for sole legal custody, specifically to avoid Cruise having control over religious decisions.

At a conference in Dublin yesterday former members were due to add to the chorus of condemnation. The conference organiser, Pete Griffiths, who turned his back on Scientology, said: "They're looking for people who've got a lot of money [and] a lot of time."

Last week, Debbie Cook, a former Scientology church executive, said she was leaving the US for Guadeloupe, after her damaging testimony on the faith earlier this year. In an email distributed to thousands of Scientologists, she criticised the "new age of continuous fundraising". The Church of Scientology sued Ms Cook and excommunicated her, finally settling after she promised never to speak publicly about the cult again.

Yesterday, Twitter was flooded with jokes about Cruise and John Travolta, another high-profile Scientologist, suggesting they would make an ideal couple. Travolta is being sued by Robert Randolph, a cruise-ship employee, who has written a book, You'll Never Spa in this Town Again, published this February, about his alleged gay encounters with the actor.

Scientology's reputation will take a further hit when the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright's book on the faith is published. Titled The Heretic of Hollywood: Paul Haggis vs the Church of Scientology, it has been described as "the most profound reckoning to date". Haggis, Oscar-winning writer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby, left the organisation after three decades in 2009, in protest at its refusal to condone same-sex marriage.

The disastrous season for Scientology is set to continue into the autumn with the release of The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is a film that is likely to be seen as a scathing allegorical critique of Scientology.

Its producers deny that it is based on L Ron Hubbard, but at the end of a trailer Hoffman appears to be giving Phoenix a "stress-test" quiz, used in Scientology to detect "psychic strain".