After sickening claims of a church cover-up in the Danny Masterson rape trial, TOM LEONARD reveals shocking allegations of phone tapping, threats to kill… and even child abuse
When actress Bijou Phillips broke down in tears earlier this month as her husband and That 70s Show star Danny Masterson was sentenced to 30 years in prison, she was hardly the only one holding their head in their hands.
For while the actor, convicted for the rape of two women some 20 years ago, was technically the only one in the dock, his beloved Church of Scientology certainly shared the spotlight with him.
The controversial church, according to prosecutors and the victims, had for years protected Masterson, one of its cherished celebrity members, to such a grotesque extent that he had felt able to rape fellow Scientologists with impunity.
In court, Masterson’s victims – themselves former Scientologists – testified that in the early 2000s, at the height of his fame, he drugged and then violently raped them, while their church did all it could to stop them from seeking justice.
In explaining why it took them so long to come forward, they spoke of their fear of an organization that allegedly harassed and threatened to excommunicate them if they went to the police, a punishment that would not only have expelled them from the church but cut them off from family and friends who were also Scientologists.
Masterson was initially charged with rape in 2020, four years after his accusers finally reported the crimes, but a jury was hung on all counts against him late last year, leading to a retrial and his subsequent conviction this year.
It was this second trial that significantly increased Scientology’s exposure as the judge controversially allowed expert testimony on the workings of the church that she hadn’t permitted the first time. Prosecutors said the actor used his prominence in the church to avoid consequences for years.
Attempts by the church to distance itself from the Masterson case were undermined during the first trial when two of the actor’s lawyers were fined by the judge who ruled they had improperly shared information about the actor’s victims with the church. (They were removed from the case before the second trial).
However, the church – which is considered a cult in some countries – insists it has no policy that prohibits Scientologists from reporting any crimes to law enforcement, and that its members are expected to abide by all laws of the land. It denies all wrong-doing, including claims that it harassed and intimidated Masterson’s accusers.
In a statement after the verdict the church said the ‘testimony and descriptions of Scientology beliefs’ during the trial were ‘uniformly false’. A senior spokeswoman also emphasized that Scientology was not a party to the Masterson case.
But while that is true, the church most certainly is a party in a string of forthcoming civil cases that some of its detractors now hope may finally lead to Scientology facing a reckoning for what they say has been decades of abusive behavior towards its brainwashed members.
Two of these lawsuits involve complainants from the Masterson trial while a third case – alleging ‘psychological torture’ and ‘harassment’ – has been brought by former celebrity Scientologist Leah Remini, an actress who has become a thorn in the church’s side.
That reckoning, Remini and others hope, could involve the US government reconsidering Scientology’s tax-exempt status, a crucial financial advantage it secured in 1993 after a protracted battle with the IRS to gain official recognition as a religion.