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In letter, former Scientology leader Debbie Cook renews concerns about church fundraising

Debbie Cook, the high-profile Scientologist who on New Year's Eve launched a surprise effort to reform the Church of Scientology's aggressive fundraising practices, has renewed her call for action but insists she's not picking a fight with the church.

In a letter released to the Tampa Bay Times, Cook again rallies individual Scientologists, calling on them to do their part in restoring the church to the way its founder L. Ron Hubbard wanted it to run.

"This is the responsibility that every Scientologist has," she wrote.

Cook referred to her Dec. 31 email, which urged thousands of Scientologists to stand up against incessant demands for money common in today's church. The email said the church under leader David Miscavige was too focused on posh buildings and was keeping more than $1 billion in reserve instead of spending it to spread the religion.

It also said Miscavige had effectively dismantled the internal checks and balances that were supposed to prevent the church from being led by a single person.

The church's intense focus on fundraising was detailed by the Times in November in a four-part investigative series titled "The Money Machine.'' It revealed church leaders pressure staffers to meet weekly fundraising targets. As a result, many resort to coercive and deceitful tactics and many parishioners go deeply into debt so they can pay the church.

Cook's email and follow-up letter constitute one of the most significant challenges to Miscavige's authority since he took power in 1986 after Hubbard's death. But Cook said she intended only to help the church.

Cook, 50, was the top authority for 17 years at the Clearwater church, the most revered Scientology spiritual center anywhere.

She became a Scientologist as a teenager in her native North Carolina and joined the church staff in Clearwater at age 17.

Today, she and her husband, former church staffer Wayne Baumgarten, live in San Antonio, Texas, where they own and run a business services company. They left the church's religious order in 2007 but remain devoted Scientologists.

In her New Year's Eve message, Cook portrayed herself as a fellow parishioner in good standing who became so deeply concerned about the direction the church was taking she felt compelled to act.

Numerous media organizations in the United States and abroad have carried her story.

Church officials did not respond to the Times' requests for comment on Jan. 1. But in statements to media organizations who picked up the story later, they say Cook is not a church insider.

In statements to USA Today and Good Morning America, the church said Cook is a "disgruntled defector," an "apostate" who can't be believed and a "squirrel," a Scientology term for heretic.

On Friday, the Times provided portions of the letter to the church. Asked to respond, church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said, "The church cannot respond to a letter it has not seen . . . nor would it ever be appropriate to do so via the Times."

Cook's latest communication appears directed to practicing Scientologists as well as media. She makes clear she misjudged media reaction to her email. She also seeks to amplify her devotion to Hubbard and her support for the church, even as she pushes for reform.

Joe Childs can be reached at jchilds@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8328. Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at ttobin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8923.

THE NEW LETTER FROM DEBBIE COOK

Here is the text of the letter former high-ranking Scientology leader Debbie Cook released to the Tampa Bay Times.

My name is Debbie Cook. Your publication just wrote about my New Year's Eve email to some of our Scientologist friends — church insiders — and included the full text of the email.

Someone else turned around and sent this letter to thousands of Scientologists — news articles are reporting 12,000 — and from there, you published it and other media outlets sensationalized it further. My email was no doubt tough reading for outsiders, as it quoted liberally and invoked duties from our own church policies and organizations.

Such matters are of paramount interest to Scientologists, but of no interest to the general public. Unfortunately this left various media to seize upon certain points that might titillate a public without a real understanding of the church, while downplaying the main point, which is my love for Scientology and my passion for it as laid out in the pure principles and guidance from L. Ron Hubbard.

I am not trying to pick a fight with the Church, nor am I bitter, or blasting or any of the other things concocted by other media outlets. I am simply asking my friends to do their part, the part that Mr. Hubbard asked of all Scientologists, which is to make sure that they only follow the workable technology laid out in policy and bulletins written by Hubbard exactly as he wrote them. This is the responsibility every Scientologist has — to keep it unadulterated.

This is the very reason I didn't want this in the press. All you got wind of was some internal group pressure to keep things on the straight and narrow. It was clearly intended as a communication amongst Scientologists.

I have been a Scientologist for 36 years. My experience of meeting and working with Scientologists all over the world is that they are truly good-hearted, ethical and caring people.

The staff of Scientology organizations work very hard, long hours to service and help anyone who walks in their doors.

Scientology organizations provide services that help people with their problems and improve conditions in one's life. Whether that is drug addiction or alcohol abuse, marital problems, school problems, kid problems, work related stress or pretty much any of life's twists and turns.

In most cases the reason Scientologists donate to the Church or even dedicate their lives to working for the Church is because their lives have been truly touched and they have been profoundly helped through the application of technology laid out by Mr. Hubbard.

Scientologists are active in community service, with community clean-ups, Winter Wonderland, adopting streets, planting trees, working with the Fire Dept as emergency response. At pretty much any natural disaster anywhere in the world you will find Scientologists as Volunteer Ministers there on the scene helping in any way they can. These and many other incredibly good things that Scientologists are involved in are the reason we care so much.

In letter, former Scientology leader Debbie Cook renews concerns about church fundraising 01/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 11:06pm]

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