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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. Peri Browner

    The only TC movie everyone should see is Magnolia. That best describes who TC and scientology are, grifters. By the way, L Ron Hubbard was the WORST sci-fi writer of all time. Can you spell SCAM?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  2. anna

    All I can say is that they are all weird!! Tom especially and John a close second.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  3. Fred

    It's bad enough that the "major" religions cause so much strife and animosity in the world today. To have every half-assed cult be allowed to call itself a religion simply causes more aggravation. Scientology may be the answer for a lot of people. It may give people the tools and incentive to better their lives. If so, more power to them.

    But ... do not call it a religion! Call it a program. Call it a way of living. Call it a lifestyle. But .. do not call it a religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • anna

      Well said!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • sam stone

      why NOT call it a religion?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Bugmenot

      COS has to maintain some semblance of religiosity in order to enjoy their tax-exempt status.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • LinSea

      I think in many cases it is less the religion that causes the strife than the people who won't respect someone else's differences. Most people seem to develop their personal belief system (whether it has a religious basis or not) and then just want to get on with their lives. On the other hand, there's the minority who feel compelled to attack, either physically or verbally, anyone who doesn't agree with them. I see the same thing in politics.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  4. Dennis Myers

    Cult with a capital C. Waiting for the day when this freak show is fully exposed.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  5. no god

    All religions back stories are ridiculous fairy tales. Christianity, Islam, all religions are just as stupid as scientology. It is laughable that any religious person would look down at scientology when their own faith is based on asinine stories with outlandish claims that will never be able to verified.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • pplr

      You are letting your own ideology (yes atheism these days is often an ideology) judge overly harshly and overlook there are differences in how a religion and a cult/mind control organization treats its members.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Peri Browner

      You left out the Mormons. Now that's a good fairy tale, or sci-fi tale since it involves space aliens. L Ron Hubbard couldn't have written such a bad science fiction story as that of Joseph Smith and his talking hat.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • tony

      Not when the survival of the religion, and the free income of it's leaders, is perceived to be at stake. And speaking of "Stakes". . . . .

      July 11, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  6. Well Duh

    Can you say CULT?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  7. lance corporal

    careful the sciencefictionologists don't like it when you speak ill of them and they have a good squad that will damage you

    July 11, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  8. ygnabb

    Harlan Ellison claims he was there the night L. Ron Hubbard came up with this nonsense. You can read the interview at http://www.islets.net/faq.html#Anchor-Was-47857

    July 11, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  9. Jonah

    "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."

    OK, any "church" that makes you go through a background check and interrogation to *leave* is not a church. Scientology is not a "church," it's a cult, a ridiculous thing started by a mediocre science fiction writer to prove that people are, indeed, morons.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Fred

      Yeah, I was struck by that comment, too. I can see where you would need permission to leave some organizations (ie, the KKK, the Hitler Youth, etc), but to leave a "religious" organization? To simply agree that you need to go through some type of program just to leave paints the whole organization as a cult.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • c

      One thing I love about America -we can be any kind of crap we want. the LDS wants to believe they'll all inherit thier own heavenly planet – secret bloomers and all. The Cathholics hope that kissing some old dude's boogery hand will get them to the great beyond. . And don't forget those Jehovahs Witnessess who think only 144,000 of them will get to heaven. so be it

      July 11, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • ORLY?

      I really cant feel too much sympathy here. While she might claim you cant just walk out, what would be stopping someone? Unless members are physically restraining these people, the idea that they can't leave is all in their heads. Scientology exploits known psychological weaknesses to persuade people to stay, but they're still just persuasions.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  10. pplr

    There is a difference between a religion and a mind control organization (known as a cult).

    It isn't funny hats or joining an organization that believes in something. It is things like the amount of control on a typical (not clergy) members life and time it uses per week, if there are differences in the amount of honest expected from members and leaders, if the organization is willing to be upfront with what it believes (religion) or only introduces its thoughts to members slowly as it makes sure they are in a state of mind to buy them (mind control organization) and so on.

    There are differences between a religion and a mind control organization. These differences are important.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Amen dude. Peace be upon you.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  11. Kev Bro

    Scientology is the Jenny Craig of religion- the more you're willing to (or can) spend, the greater the claimed results within the system.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  12. Rick

    "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." If this doesn't reek of control or the fact they are trying to hide something, then I don't know what it is. No religious group or church has the right to say what you can or cannot do. If you like what a church says or does, then by all means, stay in that church. If you don't like what they say or do, then choose another church. No church is perfect. But for a church to say you are not a christian because you don't believe in what they say, that church is NOT a church but a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Aimee

      "No religious group or church has the right to say what you can or cannot do."

      Er. I thought that was part of the point of religions. You know, honor your parents, don't eat meat during Lent, thou shalt not kill.

      I mean, I get what you're trying to say, that they shouldn't be trying to control them to that degree. But all religions control to some degree or another. And most try to discourage people from leaving. I'm not sure how Scientology can stop people from just not showing up. If they're doing that, we've got a better story on our hands.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  13. Carl

    Glad to see it was Katie with "All the right moves". Leaving must have been "mission Impossible". I guess he does not feel like the "Top gun" anymore.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  14. Garrick Greathouse

    Xenu will NOT be pleased!

    July 11, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  15. Dr. Pat

    In scientology, a gay midget wields special powers.

    For instance, if he lands on a red square, he can roll dice and if he gets two sixes he can transport himself immediately to the planet Travoltar. On Travoltar, he is constantly massaged by large opossums that have the face of that deviant Frank dude that is one of America's elected leaders.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  16. erich2112x

    Travolta and Cruise= Scientology rejects.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  17. Bill

    Nothing like having a celebrity centre to add credibility to your religion. Perks for celebrities is a great way to get on the good side of a prospective member. I am sure the appreciate having to pay money while someone else gets added benefits.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  18. Derek

    I have hard time accepting scientology as a religion. A philosophy or a way of life maybe, but not a true religion. I understand the heart of their beliefs is that all human life on earth was seeded by aliens?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • sam stone

      Derek: How is it NOT a religion?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  19. Barowner

    That is funny – scientology is the reason they split.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  20. Rick

    "The world is carried on the backs of a desperate few," Hubbard is quoted on the site. By "the few," Hubbard was referring to leaders in the realm of art, politics, industry, and sports". Hubbard was only looking for people with a lot of money. Any so called church that is only interested in people so they can make a profit or political gain is NOT a church but a cult. The same with a church that says their way is the only way to heaven. The Bible is the way, believing in Jesus Christ is the way. Not some so called church who extract from the Bible only those things that they believe in. Revelation chap. 22 verse 18 and 19 says, "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book. If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy. God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book". The part about the plagues is already coming true. Look around and see the plagues that are happening now. Cambodia is one, Africa is starting to become a problem. Read the Bible, it's all in there for every one to see.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'd be better of reading HP Lovecraft. At least his stories have an element of believability.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Dr. Pat

      Thanks Rick. I too have built my house upon the Rock.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Rumplestilskin

      *poot*

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

      the bible is a lot of dribble. no different than any other make believe fantasy religion out there.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • wizjinx

      You're as much of a fruitcake as TC is, maybe even more so. Whether you say this is the way because L. Ron Hubbard says so or the Bible says so, it's still a whacked out way to order your life. At least TC's author lived fairly recently while you continue to rely on unknown authors that lived 2k years ago.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • MaryB

      Using the Bible to prove Christianity is no different than using The Night Before Christmas to prove Santa Claus. If you believe it in your heart, fine. But not everyone needs to believe exactly what you believe.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • answer is cold

      That book has been ripped apart many times in its history and for various reason, so NO you cannot take it as a full measure. Now "the FEW" as you speak is the reference of Matthew 22:14 when Jesus told us that many will be called but few chosen. This could not be any more straight talk then if he where alive today. You either choose to change (metanoia) yourself or not, even if you want change, its YOU that has to do "the work". Metanoia is another word that was changed from its original meaning to give power to the church and away from the people, Metanoia does NOT mean REPENT it means CHANGE. Sp Rick the few is an absolutely straight forward in its meaning, its has nothing to do with the wealthy. There is little hidden in the bible if you have eyes to see.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Chuck

      And just why are the plagues in poor countries and not here i n the us where the biggest christian losers are? God hates the poor and makes an example of them? Maybe the old sky fairy can't beat the medical systems of the civilized world.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • objectiveobserver

      i'd rather drink poison than read the mad ravings of nomadic tribalists from the bronze age. the non fiction version of the bible is quite a good read though, it has nothing but blank pages.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:27 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.