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July 11th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Ex-Scientologist: Cruise was top church recruit

Montreal, Quebec (CNN) - For the secretive Church of Scientology, "there was no bigger recruit than Tom Cruise."

The top Hollywood actor's membership in the Church beginning in 1986 "was huge," says Karen Pressley - a former Commanding Officer of the Church's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood from 1987 to 1989.

"My job was to ensure that celebrities were recruited, that celebrities were well serviced within our organization, and also to open up new celebrity centers around the world," she told CNN.

The high-profile marriage split between Cruise and actress Katie Holmes, who was raised Catholic, has re-ignited media interest in Scientology's influence in Hollywood.

Related story: What is Scientology? 

A joint statement released Monday to announce their divorce settlement said, "We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents." It's not known if Holmes joined the Church of Scientology.

Cruise is just one of many celebrity members of the church, including John Travolta, Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley.

See photos of other Scientology celebs

But Cruise was among Scientology's biggest fish, says Pressley. "Is there a bigger name than Tom? We called him TC."

Church founder L. Ron Hubbard realized celebrities were key to his mission, according to the Scientology website.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"The world is carried on the backs of a desperate few," Hubbard is quoted as saying on the site. By "the few," Hubbard was referring to leaders in the realm of art, politics, industry, and sports. To cater to these people specifically, the church formed a special branch of Church of Scientology called the Celebrity Centre International. With locations around the world, Hollywood's celebrity center was established in 1969.

Its aim: to provide celebrities "… with a practical technology for improving one's happiness and creativity," the website says.

The church opens the Celebrity Centres for public tours. The Hollywood center offers classes and even a Sunday brunch, according to the website.

According to Pressley, celebrities get special perks including private entrances and course rooms, along with access to a VIP lounge.

She says Hubbard targeted celebrities specifically to add credibility to the Church's beliefs and to encourage more people to join.

Pressley, who was a Scientologist for 16 years, described internal wish lists and strategies discussed among church leaders in the 1980s to recruit other celebrities - including Brad Pitt and Demi Moore. Those discussions about how to bring Moore and Pitt into the fold never bore fruit, Pressley said.

The church would work to win over celebrity recruits, Pressley said, by giving them individual attention and by explaining how Scientology could help them achieve their highest goals as artists.

In exchange for tailored treatment, Pressley says Scientology leaders expected celebrities to stay committed to the church's teachings and speak glowingly of its benefits.

Many of them do exactly that. Travolta's spouse, Kelly Preston, credited Scientology with helping the couple cope with the death of their son, Jett.  Alley said the Church helped her overcome a drug addiction.

As for Cruise, he has publicly touted the benefits of church teachings, famously debating NBC's Matt Lauer about the church's stand against psychiatric drugs. More recently, Cruise told Playboy magazine that Scientology offers him a "search for how I can do things better, whether it's being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve."

"Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them," Cruise said.

Watch Cruise talk about Scientology

Like many faiths, Scientology prides itself on providing couples with communication tools to succeed at marriage. "It works," the church website says. "Whether applied to marital or personal relationships, to one's family or career or simply one's personal peace of mind – Scientology changes conditions for the better."

But Pressley says, as Scientology's celebrity poster child divorces for a third time, it hurts the church and Cruise.

"What does that say about .. a senior level Scientologist like Tom - TC?" Pressley asks. "What does that say about his ability to succeed in relationships? I think it's a huge statement."

The church has only said the divorce is "a private family matter " between Holmes and Cruise and said it "will continue to respect their privacy."

In response to CNN's questions about the relationship between the Church and celebrities, Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said in a statement, “The Church does not speak about the beliefs and practices of parishioners.”

“Scientology appeals to men and women in all walks of life, as do other major religions," the statement continued. "The perception that it uniquely appeals to those in the arts is a misperception conveyed by the media. There are as many reasons individuals turn to Scientology as there are parishioners, but generally Scientology offers answers to age-old questions, spiritual awareness and greater ability because it provides tools they can use in life.” (Read Pouw's entire statement below.)

In an earlier statement, Pouw commented about Pressley and other members speaking out against Scientology. "...the Church regrets that excommunicated self-serving apostates are sadly exploiting private family matters to further their hate-filled agendas against their former faith. Having left the Church many years ago, these sources have no current knowledge about the Church and their recollections are distorted by their animosity."

Pressley left the Church in 1998, after she "became so disillusioned by what I had earlier believed in, I couldn't live with myself and I no longer chose to allow the Church to control my life."

Splitting with Scientology, she says, is not an easy task - especially for high level officials.

"You don't have the freedom to make a choice like that just to walk out. You have to get permission," she says. "But in order to get permission you have to go through an intensive security check, interrogation procedure before you can be approved to leave."

Now that she's speaking out, Pressley says she's concerned about her safety.

"But," she says, "I can't remain silent about things that matter and I deal with it as it happens."

Editor's note: Below is the complete July 10 statement from Church of Scientology International spokeswoman Karin Pouw to CNN responding to questions surrounding its report about celebrities and the Church.

"The Church does not speak about the beliefs and practices of parishioners. I have never seen CNN ask the Roman Catholic Church to discuss an individual parishioner by name and it points out the insensitivity of your questions.

Scientology appeals to men and women in all walks of life, as do other major religions. The perception that it uniquely appeals to those in the arts is a misperception conveyed by the media. There are as many reasons individuals turn to Scientology as there are parishioners, but generally Scientology offers answers to age‐old questions, spiritual awareness and greater ability because it provides tools they can use in life.

The Scientology religion is enjoying a period of tremendous growth with new Churches opening throughout the world. Each has a Public Information Center providing hundreds of videos about the religion and our social and humanitarian programs in the fields of drug education and rehabilitation, education, criminal reform, morals and human rights. Anyone desiring correct information about the Church can find it at one of these churches or on our website, www.scientology,org."

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Celebrity • Scientology • TV-Anderson Cooper 360

soundoff (1,662 Responses)
  1. Bob

    For Scientology just as for Christianity, if there actually were a "supreme being" with the claimed attributes, there would be no need for the salespeople of each of those supersti-tions to actively promote their beliefs to others.

    So, why the aggressive recruiting efforts, from either religion? Well, don't come knocking on my door.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity, Scientology, and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    July 11, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • TheThinker

      Why proselytise?
      Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, etc: to share Truth as they see it.

      Scientology: to perpetuate a cash-cow created by a science fiction writer. Come on, "flew to Earth in spaceships 'like DC-8s'", "evil archeangle put everyone into a volcano and dropped thermonuclear warheads on them". Scientology is a prank on dumb people.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Bob

      TheThinker(poor handle for you), the purpose cannot be, and is not, merely to share "truth" (big quotes) in either case that I presented. Both cults, Christianity and Scientology, are very clearly bent on recruiting (aggressively so, for many sects); that's how they propagate and continue to exist, just like every other meme not grounded in evidence and reason. Really, they have no defensible truth to present.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  2. Mark C

    Any religion created by man is done so for one purpose: to control other men (or women). Scientology is no different. While their belief is slightly different then other religions (or cults) and thus still offer services for their members, it is still about control. Usually people who are in need of something or are having personal issues pursue religion (or cults) to help fill what is missing. Religion works for some and doesn't for others. What is control to one is belief to another. So, it is really a point of view then isn't it? I am spiritual and will never belong to one religion. They are all right in their own way, but all wrong in the bigger picture. I do think that if you no longer want to follow a particular religion (or cult), if they truly cared about you, they will let you go but also let you know that their doors are open for your return should it come.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • TheThinker

      True religion is the result of people praying to God, and realizing when God answers. Men who seek to control by means of religion are violating the 2nd Commandment.

      So your comment is a non-sequitur; Religion is not created to control people, but throughout history it has been (mis)used to that end.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Spoken as would be expected of a narcissist.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Who invited me?

      TheThinker
      All religions are created by men to control men.
      your god exists only in your mind
      A violation of the second commandment is a violation of mans law he put in your religion to control you.
      God never created any religions
      Men created all gods

      July 11, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  3. JudgeDB

    Also, Scientology isn't a religion. It is a complete scam which requires you to pay money BEFORE you can even learn all of the practices. At least with every "real" religion, you can freely enter and pick up a copy of whatever their book of rules is and learn everything. Also, L. Ron Hubbard pretty much admitted that Scientology was just a scam to get money from rich idiots.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  4. ReasonableXX

    Scientology is not special or unique amongst the world's religions in its lack of crediblity.

    I would instead classify it as a typical example of the ridiculousness of all man made organized religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Typical in ridiculousness (probably even less ridiculous), but excessive in cultishness.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • TheThinker

      Religion is interesting in that, when studied properly, the commonality in them can be celebrated, and their positive influences in society and peoples' lives become evident.

      Cool people who don't have religion in their life, well, I've met a couple. They were respectful, and fun to be with.

      Religion bashers, on the other hand... well for starters, I've never met one who contributed much of anything to society and they're pretty much tedious, misserable, and love to share their missery.

      Just sayin'.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • ReasonableXX

      TheThinker...ironic name.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  5. Mary

    How does having someone who is widely perceived by the public as being completely nuts help the image of Scientology? How can this be seen to be an asset by any stretch of the imagination?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  6. PantyRaid

    Check out Katie Holmes nak3d in the movie called "The Gift."

    You see some b0ob ies and a little snat ch 🙂

    She's like 18 too !

    July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  7. JudgeDB

    Maybe now Katie Holmes can get back to acting in the only scenes she does well: nude scenes.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  8. Ann

    I am soooo tired of these two people. The media should stop now. It's totally boring.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  9. Jay

    Shows what a danger this cult is if a person has to be concerned about their safety because they change their mind and don't want to be a part of anymore. Cruise is a three time loser at marriage and his first divorce was even with Scientologist Mimi Rogers. if his cult's programs work, haha, why is Cruise such a failure at relationships? Think they need to re-evaluate their programs, huh! So glad Katie came to her senses, grew up and planned her escape, sadly don't know how she can trust Cruise to keep Suri away from this cult when he has her, I'd be pertrified if I were Katie.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  10. The Truth

    Fact: A religion that creates a center just to recruit and pandor to Hollywood celebrities is not a religion.

    A Catholic can walk into any Catholic Church and participate in their services and activities, the same for Lutherans, Baptists, Jewish, Muslim, Buddists........ etc. There may be rules on which Church you primarily belong to based on Parish boundries, but I can go in to worship, request use of the facilities and join activiites at any Church that is my religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Still doesn't change the fact that they're all BS.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Mary

      Totally. I knew a fellow who was a devout Scientologist and he sat around using a couple of modified tin cans with wires attached that was supposed to help him be able to change his personal electronic impulse feedback. And everyone knows that Scientology systematically bankrupts their faithful, right? We're talking thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars here.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • TheThinker

      @ Rational Libertarian.
      Let me see: John Paul II and Mother Theresa versus an internet hater... which one is BS...
      The fact that every place of worship I've ever been to, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, has been welcoming and positive verses one-line rants by an internet troll... hmm, how do I decide?

      LOL, dude, I won't call you anything harsher than "misguided". I could. Easily. But I won't.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  11. David M

    "You don't have the freedom to make a choice like that just to walk out. You have to get permission," she says. "But in order to get permission you have to go through an intensive security check, interrogation procedure before you can be approved to leave."

    Yet Hollywood celebrities still think it's a great thing. I never heard of a church that you had to get permission to leave. Doesn't sound like a church at all. Sounds more like a scam.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  12. Nancy M. B.

    Is it my imagination, or is Tom Cruise A LOT shorter than his wife?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Harry

      And that is supposed to mean what...?

      July 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • YU

      It is pretty well known that Cruise is a short dude.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • RdWhtNBlu

      Harry is short

      July 11, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  13. Horus

    Organized religions are about control, power, and money; but hey, if it makes you "feel" better then by all means carry on. Clearly it has benefited Mr. Cruise, right? 3 failed marriages, whacky interviews, and a declining ability to attract audiences....yep, sounds like that Scientology philosophy is really working for you......

    July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  14. bpt

    "But," she says, "I can't remain silent about things that matter and I deal with it as it happens.""

    I'm sorry, I must have missed the part of this article that matters. Who cares about scientologist nutbags or their marriages. How is this even news?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Draws out Sci-tools like you, doesn't it?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  15. Dino

    Most celebrities will always go through divorces and splits. I don't think any church is going to prevent that because it has more to do with their ego from fame and riches than their religious beliefs.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Horus

      Cruise's 2nd wife (Nicole Kidman) cited differences in religious beliefs as a major factor in their separation.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Dino

      I'm not saying it necessarily wasn't the religion. TC admires the religion for how it helped him dyslexia but TC is rich unlike the rest of us which may make him turn his head the other way to the church's money scandals.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  16. onestarman

    SCIENTOLOGY PSYCHOSIS – This Cult and its mind control techniques DAMAGES People. It KILLED John Travolta's Mentally Ill Son. Travolta thinks hes's a 'Sky Pilot' and Flies his Xenu-spaceship-looking Airplane in a Airline Pilot's Uniform. We have seen how NUTS Tom Cruise Acts – I can easily Imagine a Moher NOT wanting her Child to be made to sign a Billion Year Contract with the Crazy Making cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  17. syzito

    Scientology is an invention of a science fiction writer than was not making a living with his books,so he came up with a scam...Scientology for the ignorant and lame brained.It worked....the dumbest people on Earth bought it....the Hollywood crowd.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • onestarman

      Cults have a Powerful Influence on the weak Minded – that is why MORMONISM is growing fast.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  18. David M

    More recently, Cruise told Playboy magazine that Scientology offers him a "search for how I can do things better, whether it's being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve."

    Too bad you didn't learn anything, Tom. You're arrogant with an over-inflated ego. You have three failed marriages. Ever wonder what you're doing wrong? I didn't think so.

    "Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them," Cruise said.

    That's a shallow statement. Truth is truth and always will be, not because Tom Cruise decided it was.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • leslee

      Amen.

      Can't you just picture God rolling his eyes and saying, "I can't believe anybody actually fell for this crap..."

      July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Brandon

      @leslee oh the irony...God doesn't exist honey. You are every bit as ridiculous as the scientologists.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Bugmenot

      I for the most part agree with you. Methinks however that Tommy Boy is likely just referring to his Xenu-imbued script when he starts driveling.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      indeed, facts are sterile – neither vulgar nor sublime.
      Too bad so many religious folk choose to ignore or attack facts like with the fights around heliocentrism, evolution and the (non)efficacy of prayer.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  19. Norm

    Ok Tom.....you made a fortune pretending to be a lady's man all these years.
    It's 2012....you can finally come out of the closet and be yourself.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • David M

      Tom can't come out of the closet. His ego is too big to fit through the door.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  20. SteveDS

    Here is a picture of Mohammad { * * }
    __

    Mooslams – "Come at me bro".

    July 11, 2012 at 9:21 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.