Mark C. "Marty" Rathbun left the Church of Scientology staff in late 2004, ending a 27-year career that saw him rise to be a top lieutenant under church leader David Miscavige. He spent the next four years living a low-profile existence in Texas. Some speculated he had died.
In February 2009, Rathbun surfaced on the Internet, announcing on a new web page that he was available to counsel other disaffected Scientologists.
"Having dug myself out of the dark pit where many who leave the church land," he wrote, "I began lending a hand to others similarly situated." Contacted that month by the Tampa Bay Times, Rathbun agreed to tell the story of his years in Scientology and what led to his leaving.
Thus began the long-running Tampa Bay Times series, "Inside Scientology," which sheds unprecedented light on the internal workings of a secretive church that counts Clearwater as its spiritual home. The organization also generates interest and controversy around the world.
The Times' conversations with Rathbun led to interviews with scores of other people in the Scientology world, including former staffers, former parishioners and current church members. Times journalists often traveled the country to meet their subjects face-to-face.
They also requested interviews with church officials, who initially spoke with the reporters but later responded to Times inquiries with only written answers. The newspaper has given prominence to the church's responses.
Scientologists and former Scientologists revealed aspects of the church previously unknown to the public, including how church upper level managers engaged in violent behavior, how the church controls its members and how it pressures and pesters them to donate far beyond their financial means.
The result of the Times' reporting is this multi-part special report, the latest in a long history of Scientology coverage by the newspaper. The Times won a Pulitzer Prize for a 1979 report on Scientology. And in the years since, with the church's Clearwater headquarters in the Times' prime coverage area, the in-depth reporting has continued.
Two veteran Times journalists have reported this series.
Joe Childs, a longtime editor at the Times, ran the newspaper's Clearwater operation dating to 1993 and supervised its Scientology coverage. After 38 years with the Times, he retired in 2014 as Senior Editor / At Large.
Thomas C. Tobin has covered the Church of Scientology on and off since 1996. He can be reached at [email protected].