Mike Rinder: The Documented Story of Family Betrayal, Disconnection and Lies

After walking out on his family, Mike Rinder disconnected from his kin and has twisted the truth with deceptions and lies ever since.

Mike Rinder (insert) and the daughter, son and wife he deserted in 2007
Mike Rinder (insert) and the daughter, son and wife he deserted in 2007

The story of Mike Rinder’s family betrayal and lies began on a March day in 2007. On probationary status since his removal in the Church of Scientology, Rinder prepared to leave his Southern California home on an assignment in England. His wife of more than 30 years, Cathy Bernardini Rinder, helped him pack. After saying goodbye, Rinder, 52, walked out the door.

“I expected him to come home on his return to the United States,” Cathy later said. But Mike Rinder— husband, father, brother, son— never came home. There was no conversation beforehand and no explanation afterwards.

Rinder later admitted to a television host in 2011: “I walked out of the Church, I walked away from my family, knowing I was walking away from my family.”

That was the last honest statement he would make on the matter.

After abandoning his family and the Church, Rinder hid out first in Florida, then in Virginia. Three weeks later he emailed a Church staff member to arrange for his possessions to be shipped to him. Before signing off, he noted: “I also want you to tell Cathy that I want her to join me, so she is aware of that fact, and hear what her response is.”

“That is how he broke up our marriage of over 30 years— is an email to somebody else,” Cathy said. Mike Rinder did not even mention or ask about their two children— daughter Taryn and son Benjamin— who, like Cathy, worked with the Church.

But Cathy was lucky to get even the scant, indirect word she did from Mike. In an interview posted on a blog three years later, Rinder revealed he had only included his message for Cathy because a friend was adamant he do so. Rinder recounted the friend’s insistence: “Look, you’ve got to communicate to Cathy. You’ve got to get Cathy to come out here!”

Mike Rinder’s email, sent three weeks after he walked out on his family
Mike Rinder’s email, sent three weeks after he walked out on his family, with his only message for his wife

In response to Mike’s induced email message, Cathy wrote him in no uncertain terms she had no intention of leaving her family and her church and would not join him. That was the end of that dialogue. But, over time, Rinder would spin a series of lies to cover up the facts.

“Rinder says when he first left in 2007, he called his wife and two children and asked them to leave too,” said an NBC show host in 2012. Rinder confirmed the lie: “The first thing that I did was I contacted them and said, ‘Okay, I’m done, I’m gone, I’m in Virginia. Please come and join me.’”

One year later, Rinder told a new version to a blogger: “I sent [Cathy] a letter and an email and said I want to talk to her and I want to see her.”

By 2019, Rinder seemed to have reconciled his disparate accounts into one united fabrication, writing on a blog: “One of the first things I did was write to her [Cathy] and say I wanted to speak to her and Taryn and Benjamin and wanted them to come visit where I was at the time.”

Rinder’s changing tale is not limited to his invented communications with his wife and children. He has also invented and repeated through the years that when he walked out of the Church, all of his family—including his mother, sister and brother, who, like his wife and children, are dedicated Scientologists— were forced to sever communication with him.

Then came Rinder’s final twist, publicly denigrating his family for making such a “big issue out of my failure to respond to your letters”— a public admission he had spurned and disconnected from them.

As he fraudulently lamented in one TV account in 2010: “I knew as I was walking out…that was the last time I would ever talk to my wife, it was the last time I’d ever talk to my children, the last time I’d talk to any of the rest of my family.”

While Rinder was palming off that fiction on reporters, his then girlfriend— future wife Christie Collbran— was concurrently telling reporters the actual story.

After Rinder left the Church, “He was in regular communication with his Mom,” Collbran said in July 2010. “She wrote him letters telling him about her grandchildren, and her activities and chit chatting about nice things. He wrote her the same kind of letters back.”

Similarly, there was the correspondence between Rinder and his sister, whom he had finally emailed in March 2009. In reply, she told him, “You are always my big brother and I love you tons.” She expressed her concern that her brother resolve his differences with the Church and move on, but asked only that he not mar their relationship: “I’ll not allow you to alloy my affinity for you by hearing your disagreements about the Church.”

But Mike Rinder went against such wishes of his family. Money was the draw.

Getting by as a Toyota salesman, he found a benefactor in early 2009: an avowed anti-Scientologist whose stated ambition was to “destroy” the Church leader, and who supported Rinder accordingly. As of April 2009, word had it Rinder was taking part in a planned, scurrilous newspaper attack on the Church and its leader.

A third party Rinder knew well for years while he was in the Church went to meet with him in Denver, Colorado, where he now lived, to get the clear facts. Cathy also took the trip, hoping to fill in her estranged husband on their son, Benjamin, who for more than a year had been battling for his life against cancer.

When Rinder was asked if he would like to talk to Cathy, his answer was “No.” When asked if he would like to talk to his family, his answer was another “No.”

Mike Rinder’s family: wife Cathy, brother Andrew, daughter Taryn and mother Barbara in Melbourne
Mike Rinder’s then wife, Cathy; brother, Andrew; daughter, Taryn; and mother, Barbara; Melbourne, Australia, July 2010

Rinder was next occupied with going on the record with a newspaper in its defamatory attacks on the Church and its leader.

That was offensive enough to family. But what made it all the more odious is that it was the Church and its leader who sought out and ensured the foremost experts and treatment for his son’s type of cancer— treatment that would ultimately save the young man’s life.

Family members, appalled, wrote to Mike Rinder between August 2009 and February 2010 imploring him to rethink and cease his actions for the sake of the effect on his family.

“[Y]ou are compromising every single member of this, your family,” wrote his mother, Barbara Rinder, a proud matriarch of four generations of Scientologists who was then almost 80, and who wanted to close out her life knowing her family was at peace. “I need a promise from you to desist from these actions….​There is not a lot of mileage left in this body.”

When she did not hear back, she wrote her son again: “Mike, I asked you stop attacking my Church and get on with your life and leave us alone….​What you are doing makes my life harder to live. I have never done anything to you to make your life hard to live— it’s simply not fair….​This is the least you can do and the only thing I am asking for.”

One of Barbara Rinder’s pleas to her son, Mike Rinder, to cease his hostilities against her and the family’s religion
One of Barbara Rinder’s pleas to her son, Mike Rinder, to cease his hostilities against her and the family’s religion

But Rinder, who said he knew his attacks on his mother’s religion “might literally kill her,” continued unabated and brought his hostilities to her doorstep in Australia. After Rinder then broke into his mother’s assisted living home when she was away, she yet wrote him again to “come to your senses.”

Mike Rinder never answered his mother, who died three years later. Nor, for that matter, did he answer any of the other family who wrote to him.

Well aware that he was burning his bridges, Rinder continually falsified his story and laid blame for his estrangement, and the pain he caused his family, at the feet of the Church.

And nowhere is that more obvious than the orchestrated charade Rinder attempted upon his own son, Benjamin.

In April 2010, Rinder and his close partner, Mark Rathbun, made a show of storming and trespassing on a Church retreat in Clearwater, Florida, where Benjamin was in recovery from his cancer at the time. Rinder demanded to see Benjamin while his accompanying cameraman captured video for a tabloid television show. Rinder intended to save face for never once attempting contact with Benjamin during his life-and-death ordeal— a fact made all the more repugnant considering Rinder now, for months, lived just minutes away from Clearwater— first in Safety Harbor and then in Tarpon Springs.

When Benjamin was informed of his father’s request, and the fact he had brought a camera to film the “reunion,” he wanted nothing to do with it.

Rathbun would later expose Rinder’s stunt for the self-serving charade it was.

The family had seen enough. Rinder’s outraged wife, daughter and brother flew to Florida, along with several family friends, to confront Rinder and urge him to reconcile with his family and the Church, or else leave everyone alone and move on with his life.

Rinder’s response would betray the man for who he is and forever haunt his family: He seized his petite wife by the arms, crossed them in a vice grip and increased force and pressure as she screamed in pain, and Rinder snarled, “You bitch!” When he finally released his wife, he spun away from her gouged and bleeding right arm, severe bruises and, as would later be discovered, a fractured shoulder bone and nerve damage that left her maimed for life.

Cathy Rinder. The day it happened
Cathy Rinder shoulder damage
Cathy, hours after her assault by Mike Rinder, and an MRI scan of her shoulder that he fractured during the assault

Then came Rinder’s final twist, publicly denigrating his family for making such a “big issue out of my failure to respond to your letters”— which is to say, a public admission that he had spurned and disconnected from them.

But, as with all pathological liars, Mike Rinder cannot keep track of his stories. The single fact that has endured the test of time is Rinder’s last truthful statement, from 2011:

“I walked away from my family, knowing I was walking away from my family.”