Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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 or (727) 893-8328. Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at or (727) 893-8923.


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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Duterte declares martial rule in besieged south Philippines


    MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Wednesday that he'll be harsh in enforcing martial law in his country's south as he abruptly left Moscow to deal with a crisis at home sparked by a Muslim extremist siege on a city, where militants burned buildings overnight and are feared to have …

    Policemen watches vehicles at a checkpoint in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, May 24, 2017 as the Philippine National Police is placed under full alert status following the declaration of martial law in Mindanao southern Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Wednesday that he'll be harsh in enforcing martial law in his country's south as he abruptly left Moscow to deal with a crisis at home sparked by a Muslim extremist siege on a city, where militants burned buildings overnight and are feared to have taken hostages. [Associated Press]
  2. Manchester police say they have made three more arrests in concert bombing


    BREAKING: Manchester police say they have made three more arrests over pop concert bombing. Stay with for updates.


    People light candles after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England, Tuesday May 23, 2017, the day after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead as it ended on Monday night. [Associated Press]
  3. Who will headline the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa?


    The NFL announced Tuesday that Tampa will host Super Bowl LV in 2021, a result of stadium construction delays in Los Angeles.

    Taylor Swift performed at Raymond James Stadium in 2015. Could she return for Super Bowl LV in 2021?
  4. New DEP secretary says there's no conflict in political side businesses


    TALLAHASSEE — When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state's top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying …

     Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday May 23rd, on a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. He will take the helm on June 5, with a salary of $150,000 per year. [Florida Governor's Office]
  5. Trump says 'we can use peace' during meeting with Pope Francis


    VATICAN CITY — President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, two leaders with contrasting styles and differing worldviews, met at the Vatican City on Wednesday, setting aside their previous clashes to broadcast a tone of peace for an audience around the globe.

    Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. [Associated Press]