tv 2020 ABC October 30, 2015 10:01pm-11:01pm EDT
>> the question that i'm asked, and it's both understandable and offensive, is how did you get involved with crazy crap like this? >> reporter: and tonight she answers. tv star leah remini on how she went from one of scientology's most ardent defenders to its most famous defector, to go public. >> she just quit. >> reporter: like the tough-talking character she played on the long-running tv series "king of queens." >> shut up. shut up. >> reporter: she's now sounding off, even about the church's most famous member, tom cruise. >> i don't think he's becoming
of a scientologist, jumping on couches. what the hell is this guy doing? >> reporter: tracing her beginnings in the controversial new age religion she was brought into as a child. >> everybody who gets into scientology, gets into it because they believe they are doing good things for people. >> reporter: how she landed in the church's "celebrity center" populated with stars like kirstie alley and john travolta. >> did you read or listen to everything here? >> yes. >> reporter: to her growing disenchantment with its teachings as an adult. >> when i read that i said this is some crazy [ bleep ]. >> reporter: but you stayed in the church. >> reporter: and the beginning of the end at tom cruise's wedding "written up" that she had ruined it. >> basically they were just trying to get me to recant what i said, to apologize for ruining the wedding of the century. >> reporter: tonight, taking on her toughest critics.
>> you decided to blank et statement, scientology is evil. >> reporter: and what the fear of leaving cost her emotionally. >> you are giving up everything you have ever known and everything you have worked for your whole life. >> trump -- troublemaker. >> good evening, i'm david muir. >> and i'm elizabeth vargas. what an interview you're about to see. her explosive new memoir. >> church officials saying she's rewriting history, making up stories to sell her book. tonight, what very few people outside the church get to see. here's dan harris, with the one-on-one. >> reporter: at 2:30 this past tuesday afternoon, members of the church of scientology
arrived in the lobby here at abc news hand delivering this package containing all kinds of damaging statements about leah remini. but it may surprise you that leah is already making many of those same statements in her new book. you say, "i am an apostate. i have lied. i have cheated." you then go on to admit that you have been selfish, physically threatened people and been a horrible wife and mother. >> correct. i know what, my former church -- how they deal with people who tell their story. and so i wanted to be the one to say it. >> reporter: so you felt, if you didn't say this stuff, the church was going to say it for you? >> correct. >> reporter: the church calls her a "liar, self absorbed, rude, and embarrassing." but before you decide, listen to leah's side of the story. it's a story that begins far from the 10,000-square-foot l.a. mansion remini now occupies, in the place, 3,000 miles away, she
used to call home. the tight-knit italian neighborhood of bensonhurst, brooklyn. what was leah like as a little kid? >> she was wild. she was very funny. she made me laugh. always theatrical. >> reporter: what kind of kid were you? >> i think i was a pain in the ass kid. i always felt like i was kind of an outsider because i didn't have the right things. i didn't have a cadillac. i didn't have, you know, plastic on my furniture. that was the right way to be, if you were italian. >> reporter: at age 7, a seismic change in leah's life. her parents divorced. her mom, vicki, searching for meaning, got deeply into scientology, the religion founded by science fiction writer l. ron hubbard. in your understanding, what is the goal and the promise of scientology? >> to free mankind. to make a sane world.
>> reporter: vicky was working at scientology's building in times square. >> she was never home. at the church morning, noon and night. >> it changed the dynamic of our lives, needless to say. >> what was told to me was, look at what you're doing for the world. this is more important than your family. >> reporter: did you believe that? >> yeah, i'm benefiting the planet by doing this. you know, it'll help my kids in the long run. >> reporter: eventually, vicky decided to bring her daughters leah and nicole in. and they started studying hubbard's teachings and practices and learning his unique terminology. >> you learn how to apply the techniques of scientology to yourself and others. >> reporter: so for a kid who was always looking around, comparing herself to other people, to be part of a faith where you had a mission to save -- >> the planet. >> reporter: that must have been a big deal. >> yes, and because scientologists view children as
spiritual beings, you are not treated as a kid. so you are given a lot of responsibility. your ego becomes extremely inflated. >> reporter: when leah was a teenager, her mom vicky decided to enroll her in the sea org, the pious, uniformed, full-time religious order of the church, and move the family down to the church's spiritual headquarters in clearwater, florida, known as the "flag land base." >> those people are all sea org members. >> reporter: mike rinder was once the spokesman for the church of scientology. that's him in a "20/20" report from back in 1998 praising l. ron hubbard. >> a man comes along and changes the course of history. >> reporter: now he's a very public critic who the church derides as a "liar, a bitter apostate" and a "professional anti-scientologist." he says this is what today's sea org looks like. >> they are the people who have dedicated their entire lives to scientology who live in communal church facilities, eat in church facilities.
>> they provide room and board and you work there and you sign a billion-year contract. >> reporter: a billion year contract? >> correct. >> reporter: you as a child signed this contract. >> correct, right. >> reporter: there it is in writing, scientologists believe in reincarnation. and sea org members are expected to keep working every time they come back. >> it was very militant for us kids. you are running everywhere, "yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am." >> reporter: that's leah and her sister, nicole in their sea org uniforms. those smiles notwithstanding, they say they were housed in a run-down former motel. and that the novelty wore off quickly. >> you live in roach-infested dorms with other children. >> disgusting, roach-infested, curtains falling off the window. >> reporter: and leah says learning to save the planet first involved long hours and serious labor. >> it could go from working in a laundry room to working industrial sanders. >> reporter: industrial sanders?
>> mm-hmm. >> "they were resources. they were used to do things." she was a room cleaner. that would've been where she was cleaning the rooms. >> reporter: and leah says for her joining the sea org meant leaving traditional school in eighth grade and immersing herself in scientology study. >> it's more your education in scientology is pressed upon. you're learning how to learn scientology. >> reporter: leah may have been proving herself through hard work, but there were other things preventing her rise in the sea org ranks. >> i would try to start a mutiny, because i felt we deserved better rooms. although there was food there, it didn't taste like food and you had to get it at a certain time. i had to fight to eat a hamburger. >> reporter: leah says things came to a head when she and nicole were brought up on ethics charges for their involvement with boys. >> i allowed my boyfriend at the time, who was like my first boyfriend, to go like this over my shirt. >> reporter: and that was enough to get you -- >> and that was light, that was very light, it wasn't like
really, it wasn't a real grab, dan. >> reporter: very hard to have this discussion with a straight face. >> sorry. >> reporter: we're laughing about this but the people in scientology were not laughing about it. >> no, i wasn't laughing at it either at the time. >> reporter: it was a serious violation. and leah says the church ethics officers threatened to put her and her sister into the what's called the "rehabilitation projects force," a place for scientologists who step out of line. >> when you have screwed up royally in the sea org, it's basically to reform you. you have to wear black, you have to run everywhere you go. you have to call everyone "sir." so it's pretty severe punishment for, for an adult, not to mention a child. >> to be honest, i said, "this is not going to [ bleep ] happen. >> reporter: the church says children are no longer admitted into the sea org. but that back when leah was a
member, the living conditions conformed to state health codes. the church also says that leah was "dismissed for her inability to maintain the ethical standards related to fraternization." they say leah petitioned to stay, but failed. either way, a year into those billion-year contracts it was over. when we come back, how did a sea org reject, a failed member of the cleaning crew, soon pop up on some of the most iconic tv shows of the era? >> took a knife and tied to murder me. >> reporter: did this scientology machine help make leah a star? because of toenail fungus, e a toe tucker... ask your doctor now about prescription kerydin. used daily, kerydin drops may kill the fungus at the site of infection and get to the root of your toe tucking. kerydin may cause irritation at the treated site. most common side effects include skin peeling... ...ingrown toenail, redness, itching, and swelling. tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you or does not go away. stop toe tucking... and get the drop on toenail fungus. ask your doctor today about kerydin.
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"20/20" continues with dan harris. >> reporter: smack in the middle of east hollywood looms one of scientology's most iconic buildings, the aptly nicknamed big blue. it was here, in a gritty neighborhood nearby, that leah remini and her family came to live in the mid-1980s after a disastrous tour of duty in florida with scientology's religious order, the sea org. >> there was a big scientology community there and we slept on someone's floor. we had nothing. >> reporter: despite the fact that she thought her daughters had been threatened with overly harsh punishment for their misbehavior, leah's mother, vicki, did decide to keep the family deeply involved in scientology. why didn't you say to yourself, i don't want to be part of an organization that would put kids in this position? >> never even thought about that. >> reporter: so you thought this was a failure of specific individuals, not the organization. >> exactly right, exactly.
>> reporter: now in l.a., leah threw herself into the practice and study of scientology known as "moving up the bridge to total freedom." what do you get as you move up the levels? >> it promotes that you getting to higher levels of, of awareness as a spiritual being. >> reporter: these are the courses? >> yes. >> reporter: moving up the bridge involves taking a series of courses and also participating in "auditing," a sort of counseling that employs a device known as an e-meter. >> this is just a flow of energy that's coming from the meter through you, back to the meter. once a thought comes in that thought, that picture that you have and that is registering on the meter. >> reporter: leah recently gave me a small taste of what she says an auditing session is like. you'd be asking me questions? >> i would ask you questions and based on what's happening here would i let you get away with it or not. you see what i'm saying? >> reporter: through the
questions, the answers, and the readings on the needles, the process promises to release your negative emotions. so this is a way for me to get rid of trauma that's dogging me psychologically? >> right. >> reporter: back in the mid-1980s, leah says she was going through these types of sessions almost daily which means she had to earn money, because moving up the bridge is not free. so you have to pay for these classes? >> dan, are you [ bleep ] with me right now? >> reporter: how much do they cost? >> thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout your, through your scientology career. >> reporter: it's at this point that leah decided to pursue a new and more lucrative career than the waitressing and secretarial gigs she had been holding down -- acting. she felt she had a propensity for comedy, which we saw first hand in our interview. >> i'm dan, i'm so serious. >> reporter: as she began the process of auditioning, she says
her experience in scientology played an important role. how helpful was scientology in terms of getting your acting career started? >> there's tools that are very helpful to you in your life, to you as an actor. >> reporter: you're referring to clear communication, doggedness, persistence. that's what you draw upon. >> correct. so i walked into a room where some people might feel, you know, cower in front of a casting director. i wasn't. >> reporter: but it didn't come that easily. so when did you get your first big role? how long did that take? >> well, an excruciating year. i mean for most that's like so crazy, i mean but for me it was like how long does this take? >> reporter: which was what? >> "living dolls." ♪ i thought i had made it. >> reporter: done. >> i was like thinking i'm going to buy my mother a plane, like how do celebrities live? i wanted to buy a house. >> reporter: but the show didn't last.
>> the show didn't last, dan, thank you for pointing that out. it got cancelled. >> reporter: over the ensuing years, leah did hundreds of auditions and she landed many small roles along the way. remember stacey carosi on "saved by the bell?" >> are you guys fighting again? >> it's what we do best. >> reporter: she also got guest roles on huge shows like "cheers" and "nypd blue." >> what led up to him stabbing you? >> what led up to it, we had a fight, he took a knife and tried to murder me. >> reporter: and she even scored some leading roles in a few sitcoms like "fired up." and the church was taking notice. here leah is featured on the cover of scientology's official "celebrity" magazine. meanwhile during this time, a major off-screen development. leah met the love of her life. a man named angelo pagan, who she dubbed the cuban frank sinatra. >> he just walked in and started
singing. and he just caught my attention, >> i was onstage. and she caught my eye and i was like, oh, my god. i can't wait until my set is over. >> reporter: angelo fell so hard for leah that he not only left his wife and dove headlong into scientology. >> had she been into kabbalah or a buddhist, i would have done anything. muslim? hey, give me the koran, let's go. baby, if it's working for you, i'm in. >> reporter: through angelo leah made some a-list friends. jennifer lopez and her then-husband mark anthony. and shortly thereafter, leah got the call that would change her career. an offer to audition for a new show called "the king of queens." >> can you just try to be nice? >> i am trying. if she weren't trying, she would have a fork sticking out of her neck. >> reporter: the role of carrie heffernan, the
tough-talking, wise-cracking wife of kevin james' everyman doug turned out to be a sitcom match made in heaven. after years of struggling, the self-described troublemaker from bensonhurst had finally made it. she had a genuine hit on her hands. >> we would be walking down the street and people would stare at her. "leah, leah." it was like, oh, my god, people love her. >> reporter: coming up, leah's about to learn about what life is like for celebrity scientologists, coming into the orbit of tom cruise. >> what the hell is this guy doing? he just needs to be an actor, like he needs to bloop, okay? >> reporter: and how it all started to go wrong at the tom cruise/katie holmes wedding. stay with us. mmmm... when you add liquid gold velveeta to rotel tomatoes and zesty chilies, you got a queso so good...
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celebrity. a star on the hit show, "the king of queens." the new role gave her a new identity -- fame, money, and increased prominence in the church that had dominated her life since age 8. why is the church so focused on celebrities? >> because this is how you are promoting your religion. >> celebrities are treated very differently depending upon how prominent they are. the leah reminis and the kirstie alley and the john travolta and then ultimately to the tom cruise, it's a very different scientology world. >> reporter: in fact, famous scientologists have their own building in l.a. not big blue, but this elegant chateau the celebrity center. >> celebrity center is my second home. >> reporter: leah was now appearing in scientology videos, and she says, rubbing shoulders with this man.
>> how much must one do to call himself a scientologist? >> reporter: the powerful head of the church, david miscavige. she says she socialized with miscavige and his wife shelley, exchanging gifts and holiday cards. what is it like to meet with david miscavige? what is he like as a person? >> he's very, you know, charismatic. he's very powerful. he's likable. >> reporter: life was moving quickly for leah. she and angelo got married, a ceremony captured by vh-1. she landed a role in the hit movie "old school." and then the couple had a baby girl. although leah admits that in the delivery room she deviated from l. ron hubbard's expressed preference for drug-free births. >> you know, i was going to attempt to do it, you know, for my church, but you know, when you start feeling a baby coming out of your vagina, if there was
a rock i would've hit myself over the head with it. >> reporter: that same year, leah says she made an important new friend through the church, the world's most famous scientologist, tom cruise -- who declined to comment for this report. >> i think it's a privilege to call yourself a scientologist, and it's something that you have to earn, because a scientologist does, he or she has the ability to create new and better realities and improve conditions. >> reporter: what were your impressions of him? >> at first it's very effusive, it's very loving. you get the, like, laser in on you and you're the most important thing that ever happened. it's "what are you doing" and "how are you doing" and "yeah, great, great great great!" >> reporter: leah says the exposure to cruise -- this is them hugging at a movie premiere -- opened her eyes to his vast influence within the church. an influence she says was exemplified by a call she got one night from a church official. >> tom wants you to come over and teach him salsa dancing.
>> reporter: she says two high-ranking scientology officials were there with tom at his home and so was his new girlfriend, katie holmes. >> he was like forcibly kissing katie, you know, i said "hey, get a fricking room." and well, i was written up for that. and i had to go into session for it. >> reporter: that's right. she says one of those church officials essentially tattled on her. remini says it's a common practice -- church members regularly write what are called "knowledge reports" on one another for breaking rules. she says the accused then have to answer those allegations in auditing sessions. does it create an atmosphere of mistrust? >> you can assume if you say something that is critical to the church, you will be written up. husband-wife, mother-daughter, it's what the group does to regulate itself. >> reporter: leah admits to writing knowledge reports herself. frequently. so did you ever write up a report on your husband? >> hell, yeah. i wrote angelo up all the time.
>> reporter: leah says she continued to hang out with cruise, but did not hesitate to speak up when she thought he was damaging the church in the public view. >> i'm saying i don't think he's becoming of a scientologist, jumping on couches. and attacking matt lauer. >> you don't know the history of psychiatry. i do. >> and attacking brooke shields. like, what the hell is this guy doing? we need to rein it in, we need to stop all this, and he just needs to be an actor, like he needs to bloop, okay? i was immediately dealt with. >> reporter: how? >> the only reason you're saying these things is 'cause you have your own transgressions. so you then become guilty. being critical of tom cruise is being critical of scientology itself. you are a person who is anti the aims and goals of scientology. you are evil. >> reporter: remini says she was increasingly dismayed by the
fawning attention church officials heaped upon the a-lister, who was extremely close with the head of scientology, david miscavige. >> i would refer to him even in my own sessions, i was like, "you're doing this for a fricking actor?" like, it was so beneath what was truly important. he's just a, an actor. >> reporter: but despite all that, she says she was genuinely excited when one day in 2006, cruise invited her to his wedding with katie holmes at this grand italian castle. an invitation, that she says, came with a twist. and he asked you to invite -- >> jennifer and mark. but the church was really the one who invited them on tom's behalf. >> reporter: jennifer and mark, meaning leah's close friend jennifer lopez and her husband, the singer mark anthony. the couple agreed to go. in fact, here's a picture the paparazzi took when they arrived for the ceremony in italy, with j-lo and mark in the foreground and leah there in the back. >> i was hoping to get a picture
like this, you know, where i looked gorgeous and stunning, but instead i looked like that. >> reporter: in her new book, "troublemaker," there is a lot of color about the wedding, including the moment when leah says tom serenaded his new bride with "you've lost that loving feeling," echoing this famous moment from "top gun." ♪ you never close your eyes anymore when i kiss your lips ♪ >> we're, like, interesting song to sing to your bride. ♪ you've lost that loving feeling ♪ >> reporter: but leah says the three day affair -- studded with stars from both inside and out of the church -- was not all fun, sun, and song. his wedding becomes a pivotal point in your relationship to the church. >> right. >> reporter: remini says at the wedding, where miscavige served as best man, church officials took their cruise adulation to a whole new level. she also says she was annoyed by what she saw as ham-handed efforts to separate her from her
friend jennifer lopez, by having them travel in separate vehicles and sit at different tables. parts of what went down at the wedding seem to be pretty >> juvenile. >> reporter: yeah, juvenile. >> correct. >> reporter: it may sound petty, but remini insists this was not just a fuss over seating charts. >> they were always trying to extract me. >> reporter: why? >> i could only assume, because they wanted to make jennifer a scientologist and maybe i was barring that road for them. >> reporter: but what leah says really bothered her at the wedding she says was something else -- the fact that david miscavige was there, without his wife shelly. >> shelly was always where david miscavige was. for such a big event -- it was a wedding of the century. it was like, where's shelly? >> reporter: you would ask church officials? >> get up and leave. it's such a simple thing. it's a big wedding that the leader of the church is here and
his wife isn't. it's getting weirder, because you're making it weirder. >> reporter: it sounds like you started asking the question innocently and then you were like a dog with a bone, you wanted to figure out what the answer was. >> well, yes, the church taught me that. >> reporter: the church tells abc news, in regards to the wedding, every claim ms. remini has made is not only untrue, but "ridiculous and stupid." for her part, leah says what she saw was enough for her to take a radical step. she says she filed a wide-ranging knowledge report complaining about various church members at the wedding. you left the wedding on a mission to save scientology. >> right, i thought i now see where the cracks are in our church, and it's david miscavige, it's tom cruise. they were bringing scientology down. >> reporter: when we come back, leah's rebellion has unintended consequences in a stark display of the kind of power scientology allegedly has even over its brightest stars. >> basically, they were just trying to get me to recant what
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"20/20" continues. >> welcome to the mecca of scientology. >> reporter: 2006 at scientology's flag land base in clearwater, florida, a city where the church has continually expanded its footprint. here in this place where, as a teenager, leah remini had been a rebellious and ultimately failed member of scientology's religious order, the sea org, she had now come full circle. >> i was sent to florida for reprogramming, for three or four months. >> reporter: even though she was now tv royalty, she was in hot water with the faith yet again. >> from 9:00 in the morning
until 10:00 at night, those were the hours that i kept while doing this, filled with some kind of reprimand for my horrible behavior. >> reporter: leah left the wedding of tom cruise and katie holmes in italy on what she calls a mission to save scientology, writing a so-called knowledge report complaining about high-ranking officials. but to her dismay she says she learned that numerous scientologists had filed reports on her for being loud, late and rude, upgrading her hotel room and switching seats at the reception. you were confronted with all of these knowledge reports written by other people at the wedding saying that you had behaved poorly. >> correct, that i had disrupted the wedding, that i basically destroyed the wedding. >> reporter: leah showed us this document which she claims to be a knowledge report from katie holmes herself. could you read me some key lines? >> sure, it starts with, i was dismayed at the behavior of leah remini during the events leading up to our wedding and our wedding.
the behavior as a guest, a friend, a fellow scientologist was very upsetting. >> reporter: leah says she had crossed two pillars of scientology, tom cruise and chairman of the board david miscavige and here in clearwater she was being taken to task. >> basically they were just trying to get me to recant what i said, to apologize for ruining the wedding of the century. >> reporter: why didn't you just leave? >> i wasn't ready to leave the church. you are giving up everything you have ever known and everything you have worked for your whole life. so yes, i said everything they needed me to say. and once i did that, i was free to go home. >> reporter: by all appearances, leah resumed her life as an active scientologist. >> there you are. what are you doing? >> reporter: she continued taking church courses. and doing her auditing sessions, while "the king of queens" ended while "the king of queens" ended its nine-year run in spring 2007. that fall, leah says she wrote
this as a letter to david miscavige, apologizing for "acting like a complete idiot at the wedding" and saying "i admire you for all you have done." but in her mind she says the seeds of doubt had been growing, not just about the organization, but also about its cosmic theology. one example back in 2003, when she says she reached a key level of scientology's bridge to total freedom, "operating thetan three," a point at which she says key church secrets about the history of the universe are revealed. in this document written by church founder l. ron hubbard, he tells a story about an intergalactic warlord named xenu. who's xenu? >> it was some galactic confederation, there was a war and they, there was a volcano and they bodied, you know, they took the spirits of people and they, they encased them into something, into a volcano, blew them up and then those, those, those spirits are now inside of you, on you, in you. like, you are made up of these things.
>> reporter: when you read that, did you think this is true? >> what i read, when i read that i said this is some crazy [ bleep ]. >> reporter: so you thought it was crazy and you're laughing about it now, but you stayed in the church and kept moving your way up the bridge. >> right. again, not ready to walk away. i've worked this hard to get there. >> reporter: but that wasn't enough to convince you that maybe something was -- >> so what am i doing? i'm leaving, i'm walking away from my mother? i'm leaving my mother? i'm never talking to my mother again? >> reporter: the church would not talk about its advanced scriptures, but told abc news that "it is not unusual for a religion to have confidential scriptures and practices." while leah struggled privately with her faith, she continued a cordial relationship with tom cruise, exchanging friendly notes like these in which cruise thanks her "for being such a great scientologist." leah did a short-lived stint on the cbs show, "the talk." >> i hate to hear people's dreams. i hate it. >> reporter: where she was dropped she says because she clashed with some of her co-hosts.
a point the church highlighted in a statement to abc news saying leah has a habit of blaming anyone and everyone for her problems and is constantly picking fights. but in 2012, another major inflection point in leah's relationship with scientology. katie holmes, who she says had written one of those knowledge report against her, publicly left tom cruise. leah says she felt vindicated. >> yeah, i said, where's my apology? >> reporter: well, here's one, just this week, katie holmes wrote to abc news. she neither confirmed nor denied writing that knowledge report, but said, "i regret having upset leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future." >> do i get an apology from tom, from david miscavige? do i get any validation from the church? >> reporter: leah says the divorce re-ignited a lot of her old anger about her grueling counseling sessions in florida and about all of the money she says she'd spent on the church for auditing, courses, and materials like these.
>> these are the awards i received. >> reporter: she recently showed us trophies she says she received for giving $2.5 million to scientology charities. as her frustration mounted, she says she decided to commit a serious infraction in scientology, she went online to see what critics of the church were saying. she says she saw the reports of families who say they were torn apart by the church's practice of "disconnection," the shunning of ex-members by friends, and relatives still in the church. >> this horrible practice of disconnection, i want it to end. >> reporter: and allegations by former top officials who say they were punched or slapped by david miscavige. >> i was heartbroken for myself, for my family. i didn't want these things to be true. >> reporter: scientology has adamantly and repeatedly denied that miscavige physically struck anyone.
>> how are you? >> reporter: leah herself had long dismissed church critics, but now, in abrupt about-face, she actually reached out and contacted mike rinder, a man the church views as one of its archenemies. >> i mean, like, talking to me is like, you know, sleeping with the devil. >> reporter: by this point, leah says she was becoming more and more assertive within the church on a very sore subject, shelly miscavige, who leah says she still couldn't locate or contact. leah demanded that church officials deliver this note to shelly. >> i started to say enough, and i said, where is shelly? where is shelly? over and over again and i wasn't getting an answer. >> reporter: she says the situation came to a head when the church sent two high-ranking officials to her house. a visit that turned into an argument, and then almost turned into much more. >> one of them called her a name. >> yes, yes. and i grabbed him by the collar, yes. >> reporter: what did he call her?
>> he called her a bitch. >> reporter: leah was finally ready to leave. the church says she was actually expelled for ethical lapses, and claims she tried to stay. leah denies all that. either way, there was an enormous, emotionally fraught question lingering. would her family "disconnect" from her? >> i'm ready to walk away from everybody that i've ever known and cut ties with my own husband, my own mother, because you don't know what they're going to decide. very often, my experience is people choose the church. >> reporter: the church says disconnection is voluntary. but in the end with the reminis, that is not how it went down. did you ever have a moment of thinking, well, maybe i'll stay with the church? >> never. it was never a thought. >> reporter: even after dedicating decades of her life to the church, when her daughter decided to "blow." that's church lingo for quitting, her mom vicky left too. so did everyone else in the family. how much did it mean to you that
your family stood by you? >> it means everything. >> reporter: when we come back, leah decides to go public, even taking her beef to the ballroom on "dancing with the stars." and earning the ire of some of her fellow scientology celebs. >> when you decide to blank et statement that scientology is evil, you become my enemy. "inspire." "be a hero." we all have greatness in us, and with the right tools, there are no limits to where your rhythm will take you. introducing the ultimate laptop. surface book by microsoft.
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you can't fake steak. and for lunch, try our new steak & bacon cheddar melt, or any steakhouse lunch combo starting at $7. "20/20" continues. >> leah remini speaks out. >> leaving the church of scientology. >> reporter: in the summer of 2013, leah remini's very personal separation from her faith became a very public matter. at first, she kept her public statements to a minimum. >> i'm good. i have my family. my real friends are behind me. and i think that says a lot.
>> reporter: the church's initial public response to leah's departure was subdued. but then leah upped the ante dramatically by filing a missing persons report on shelly miscavige, who leah says hadn't been seen in public since august of 2007. >> it was sending a message to them that it's not okay. >> reporter: the church's response to your action was to say, quote, "the entire episode was nothing more than a publicity stunt for ms. remini." >> a publicity stunt? i mean i don't know, marking myself for whatever the church usually does to people who leave the church or speak out publicly is not a walk in the park, it's not fun. >> reporter: the lapd said, told us when after we covered the story, quote, "our missing persons detectives have met with the alleged missing person within the past two days, we consider the case closed." >> they never told me that. >> reporter: the open warfare
escalated when leah went on the abc program "dancing with the stars." >> the church is looking for me to fail so that they can say to their parishioners, you see what happens when you leave the church? like they're waiting for me to fail. >> reporter: she says she chose the song "roar" by katy perry to send a message. but celebrity scientologist kirstie alley had a message of her own. >> when you decide to blank et statement scientology is evil, you become my enemy. >> anybody who criticizes the church is to cry that everybody's a bigot towards their religion and this is religious bigotry. i was in the same position, i said similar things about people like me. >> reporter: just this week, with leah guest hosting "dancing with the stars," the church is ramping up its criticism. so that is one of their main arguments, that you're just trying to stay relevant. here, let me read you an exact quote.
>> okay, please. >> reporter: "given leah remini's insatiable desire for attention, it comes as no surprise that for two years she has been incapable of moving on with her life and remains obsessed with shamelessly exploiting her former religion in a pathetic attempt to get publicity." >> yes, i agree with them, i wish i too could get over 30 years of this quickly. unfortunately it's going to take some time. >> reporter: when the church accuses you of being a deeply flawed person. doesn't that raise questions about the effectiveness of the church's own teaching? >> that's not a shining endorsement for the church of scientology to say that i'm, i'm deeply flawed after 30 years of reaching the upper levels of the church. >> reporter: would you like to see the church go away? or just change? >> it's a hard thing because i know a lot of them have been in for a long time and i know they're good people. it's the policies of the church. it's the parishioners that have the power. it's the parishioners that actually could effect change, by just not subscribing to it.
>> reporter: two years out of the church, leah says her life is now better than ever. that the ordeal has reinforced the bonds within her family what is that like psychologically to be with the church so long, to have brought your family into it and then to decide to leave? >> well, you know, i look back at it and i go, oh, my god, there's a lot of years here, a lot of years that i could have been doing other things with my kids. but it's like i have to look at the present and not be in the past. >> at the end, i mean, i don't regret what i've been through. i don't regret spending my life there, because it really did teach me a lot. and because we've all survived it, we're all surviving it and living life and it's kind of like we, we have a gift of second chance of life.
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♪ or, as we say at unitedhealthcare insurance company, go long. consider an aarp medicare supplement insurance plan insured by unitedhealthcare insurance company... go long. in scientology, giving us this final comment. we are very happy ms. remini is no longer in the church. i'm david muir. >> and i'm elizabeth vargas. you will no doubt have a lot to say about tonight's program. let us know on facebook and twitter, use #abc2020. you can hear more from her >> coming up on "action news" the stage is set and teams ready for the national spotlight to fall on philadelphia and consumer alert