The German Protestant Church has compared Hollywood film star Tom Cruise to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and claimed the actor was using his celebrity status to publicise the Church of Scientology, of which he is a prominent member.
The criticism of Mr Cruise, who is in Germany to make a film about an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was the most vitriolic in a series of attacks on the actor over his membership of Scientology - regarded as a cult in Germany and kept under surveillance.
Thomas Gandow, 60, chief spokesman on religious cults for the German Protestant Church, described Scientology as a "totalitarian organisation" and said that Mr Cruise had become "the Goebbels of Scientology".
In the film Valkyrie ,Tom Cruise, 45, plays Claus von Stauffenberg, a German army officer and aristocrat who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944 by planting a bomb inside the Nazi leader's East Prussian headquarters. However, Mr Gandow dismissed the film yesterday as "propaganda for Scientology". Mr Gandow added, in a reference to the favourable publicity won by Hitler's Nazi party during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games: "This film will have the same propaganda advantages for Scientology as the 1936 Olympics had for the Nazis."
Mr Gandow's attack on the actor followed criticism from the German Defence Ministry, which banned the actor from filming at key military sites in Berlin which were authentic locations during the 1944 plot.
Antje Blumenthal, a conservative MP and Scientology critic, said: "Unlike the Nazi propaganda minister, Tom Cruise has the sympathy of the public. As a Scientology ambassador he uses his popularity very cleverly in the interests of the totalitarian sect."
Meanwhile, Dieter Wedel, 46, a veteran German film director, joined other film buffs yesterday in criticising the campaign against the actor. "This sort of discussion damages Germany as a film location. What an actor believes is irrelevant. I agree that Scientology is dangerous, but there are other ways to combat the organisation," he said.
Despite the public row, the film has been quietly awarded sponsorship from the German film board.