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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. kimmie

    Hello, People, this is NOT a religion. Its a CULT!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Michael

      It's as much a religion AND cult as the Roman Catholic faith.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • answer is cold

      if you believe ...then its a religion.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  2. The Writeswift Blog

    Leave it to the media to plow through those who are disgruntled and left Scientology. What about the millions of folks, just plain working people like me, who have actually taken courses there and read some of the books by L. Ron Hubbard - which I strongly recommend before anyone passes judgement - and have actually found the tenets to be helpful? Does the media seek out the millions of people who have left the Catholic Church, abandoned their Christian teachings, or found fault with Judaism? And in doing so, does the media and the uninformed then so vehemently lambast the New Testament, the author of the Torah, or the Pope? Or is it because Scientology was founded in our lifetime, and is thus contemporary, that we feel it is acceptable to practice religious discrimination against it and its followers? More likely, it is those things we do not understand that we fear. So, read a book or two by L. Ron Hubbard and get back to me...

    July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Liz

      Say hi to Xenu for me

      July 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • answer is cold

      I might since I'm a member of the "4th way" Gurdjieff has changed my life completely and Scientology looks very close in fact ...I think LRon borrowed PD Ouspensky's "psychological" commentaries for his basis. Nothing wrong with that cause it is awesome.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Walex

      Do these Judeo Christian faiths require you to get permission to leave? Do they require you spend a ton of money to get "clear"? Do the followers leaving live in fear? None that I know and I know many people who have changed faiths. Islam doesn't let you leave either....Free will is God given.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Spoken like a well-paid COS propagandist. Peace be upon you as well son of Xenu.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • daveinla

      I'm koo-koo for coco-puffs!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  3. james

    Getting permission to quit or leave Scientology is a bit of a stretch. I get the impression that if you just walk away you are putting yourself in danger. How in the heck does that happen.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  4. yannaes

    This sounds something what Hitler would not mind joining. I am sure that he, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Barak O. and a few other's would enjoy their lives and they could even have greater control of people.

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

      yannaes, to each his own but I don't know how you can include the president with that group on men.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • answer is cold

      maybe you can timeshare your brain since you have soooooooo much room in there.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  5. BigAl

    the so called "Church of Scientology", isn't a church, its a business and a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      All churches are businesses and most are pretty cultish. Have you ever watched a Catholic mass and pretended you had no idea what Christianity was and this was your first encounter? It's incredibly weird.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • PushingBack

      The Catholic Church is a business too. Both cults in my mind!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Jacob

      Which makes it no different than most churches.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • answer is cold

      yet another great benefit for being a "4th way" member, no church or payment rendered.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  6. TheAmazingMrGeneric

    Scientology isn't a religion, a church or a faith. It's a scam to prey on the weak. It IS scary and should be highly distrusted.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      They're all scams that prey on the weak.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • GAW

      Like doh.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • TheAmazingMrGeneric

      My church doesn't have VIP rooms, doesn't recruit celebretards, demand donations or need to run security clearances for any member to leave. No religion is perfect and it's up to an individual to establish a relation with their Higher Power. But Scientology is certainly its own brand of crazy. I'll pass on their Kool Aid thank you.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • answer is cold

      how "common" of you. continue to process your programming like the good little lemming you are.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  7. Joe

    Katie Holmes is 33 freaking years old, why do these jounalist still mention her religion from what she as raised as. What the heck is she now? "Holmes, who was raised Roman Catholic." We are all raised in someway or another but don't limit her or the controversy between Scientology to what her parents raised her over 15 years ago. It should say 'Holmes herself, who is a --" and then proceed. Idiot.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • ThaGerm

      Riiiight, because how we were raised has nooooo affect on who we are. Do you know any Roman Catholics? If you do, apparently you don't understand much about them. It IS a lifelong thing, especially for those raised in the faith. That is why 98% of Mexico is RC and always will be. Ignorant!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Joe

      ThaGerm, read carefully what I said. It says nothing about how our childhood affect us, I said Katie Holmes is 33 and if she is, in fact, still a Roman Catholic then it should say Katie is a Roman Catholic which means by her choice not written as her parents faults. At 33 years old if you are still saying I am this because I was raised this way then you are an idiot and you probably are. Yes I know many ex-Catholics of various ages and what. Its not a complicated discuss, just idiots like you making it complicated

      July 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  8. Well Duh

    IF God truly loves everyone EQUALLY, WHY would CELEBRITIES get preferrential treatment?

    Again.....CULT!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Joe

      Preach!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • GAW

      Maybe he prefers cash.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • cult

      cult

      July 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  9. dizzylucy

    I have sympathy for anyone who's lost a family member to this cult. So many reports of being being cut off from their families, abused, bankrupted, etc. They seem to prey on those who are lost or struggling, it's very sad.
    No "religion" should require you to shell out big bucks for the chance to hear what they preach, or harass those who choose to leave.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  10. tigrr

    ALL Churchs and Religiious groups want you breeding so they will get more members and their organization will grow.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Joe

      Tigrr make a freaking point or shut up. Nature insist that humans to breed, the government wants its citizens to breed, our families want us to have more grand children, so what, make a point.

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

      Untrue: Apparanlty an ex Scientologist was forced to divorce her husband because she got pregnant. The Church pressures the woment to have abortions because they find children are a distraction and financial burden to the 'churche's' functions, whatever those are. This was a report on CNN just earlier this week.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  11. Bones

    It would be so cool if cultists like Tom Cruise just believed whatever they want to believe and left the rest of us alone. Is this news? Shame on you CNN...you've become people magazine dotcom

    July 11, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  12. John M

    Wow, that's a pretty tight grip. Anyone who is no longer happy with the church and wants to leave becomes "excommunicated", as they naturally have "hate filled agendas" and their "recollections are distorted by animosity." Sounds like too many religious organizations: the worst sins don't involve raping, murdering, and pillaging, which are ultimately forgivable if you're contrite enough–no, the unforgivable sin is stubbornly challenging the church (or corporate) hierarchy.

    BTW, Katie, I'm available–call me. 😉

    July 11, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Walex

      I don't completely disagree with you. This "church" isn't a church. It's a cult. They control your money, time and life. That is a cult. The forgiveness part is what I take issue with. No church can offer forgiveness. Only God can forgive. Any church selling forgiveness is a sham. It find the COS response of those who speak on that topic after they have left the "faith" amusing. Very angry and demeaning. What kind of church is that? Creepy answer for a creepy place. I pray Tom see the the light and accepts the Lord.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Todd E.

    "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."

    Since when can a "religion" hold you hostage in this fashion? The belief that "You have to get permission" to leave and the process leaving entails is just proof that it is a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  14. wizjinx

    Hey, this is small time lol. This country is actually contemplating electing a Mormon. Check out that f'd up history if you want a real scare. Of course all religions have a pretty sad history, but the Mormons are a relatively recent phenomena.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  15. CrazyTime

    "My job was to ensure that celebrities were recruited...get special perks including private entrances and course rooms, along with access to a VIP lounge...targeted celebrities specifically to add credibility to the Church's beliefs"

    Because, as it is on paper, it's really NOT credible or believable...sounds like a Cult to me. Is there "spiked" Kool-aid involved? Tennis shoes and purple sheets? Keep on believin' believers....

    July 11, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  16. Jayne

    Uh, does anybody remember Nicole? He left her a few days before the prenuptial agreement was enforceable. Turn about is fair play. What a jerk and what a smart thing Katie did by leaving him. Maybe Suri will have some kind of normal life. We've all watched him lose it over the years. Let's hope the space craft picks him up soon. BTW, I read that L. Ron Hubbard tried several other scams before he hit on Scientology.

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

      He also supposedly commented to a friend "If you want to make a lot of money, start a religion".
      That says it all.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  17. Carlos

    Religions are going to destroy the world. The day human understand nature and accept that we are a nature accident rather than a creation of some sort of being seating in a chair in some 4th dimension watching people and illnesses destroying the world, that day we will live in peace. How blind you need to be to believe in all non-sense religious story. The only truth is called "common sense"

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

      You got actual proof that humans are just a random accident?

      Because if not,its a religion.You believe it without evidence.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Who invited me?

      L
      Yes there is proof everywhere. the evidence is overwhelming but because you refuse to open your eyes to it, it must not exist. Just stick your fingers in your ears and hum really loudly.

      The proof is in the fossil records, in experiments, in studies in our own DNA,,,open your eyes.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • sam stone

      L: Not all "beliefs without evidence" are religions. Some are faiths. Religion is top down. Faith is internal

      July 11, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Fred

      Truth, brother!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • David L.

      L, is that a serious statement?

      Of course he doesn't have proof. Nobody has any proof of the nature of our existence. However, I will say that Atheists have MUCH more evidence to support their claims than does any religion. To say that he is believing without proof, and hold that against him, is unfair. Everyone is believing without proof. Some just choose to approach it more intelligently than others.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Walex

      What? Created (the design of the human body supports this) or "natural" what ever that means, how do you explain the most violent, heinous acts in the history of the world being committed by atheists? Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin and Hitler? Design is quite plain in all of nature. Chocolate should tell you that. Chocolate was an accident of nature?? Yeah, whatever.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Walex, from your post you apparently have a very poor understanding of both the world and human nature.

      Stop posting this "atheists are mass killers" nonsense. You've been preceded by thousands of prior f00ls posting this tripe already, and your regurgitation is no more accurate than your predecessors. Typically, politically-inspired mass killings of people are attempts at "ethnic cleansing".

      Hitler, for example, hated Jews. Big surprise there, eh?. But he also hated ethnic groups like gypsies. He was NOT an atheist. He was raised Roman Catholic.

      Though he supposedly dabbled in other beliefs as an adult Nazi, you may be surprised to learn that Hitler's Wehrmacht troops wore belt buckles with the inscription "Gott Mit Uns", which means 'God is with us'. Does that sound atheist to you?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • TR6

      @Walex” how do you explain the most violent, heinous acts in the history of the world being committed by atheists? Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin and Hitler”

      Communism is just another form of dogmatic theology just like christianity
      Hitler and all of his storm troopers were Christian

      July 11, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  18. GAW

    Recruiting celebrities? I'd say this is all about money here. If you don't have the cash the The church of Scientology doesn't have the time

    July 11, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  19. Stu

    "It is widely believed that the creation of Scientology was the result of a bar bet between L. Ron Hubbard and Robert A. Heinlein. The story says L. Ron Hubbard dared that he could create a religion all by himself. According to Scientology critic Lindsay[4] this is "definitely not true", no such bet was ever made, it would have been "uncharacteristic of Heinlein" to make such a bet, and "there's no supporting evidence". However, several of Heinlein's autobiographical pieces, as well as biographical pieces written by his wife, claim repeatedly that the bet did indeed occur."

    July 11, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land" spawned it's own religion.
      The Church of All Worlds is still active in the US "neo-pagan" community.
      However, Heinlein distanced himself from the group – wished them well but never endorsed them.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  20. Bucktooth

    Travolta and Cruise both have issues! Where there's smoke there's fire!!

    July 11, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • answer is cold

      what problems do they have they are rich, successful and well known ...oh you mean because of failed marriages and alleged groping of others.... ha ha ha ...this is the flesh made manifest. religion or not a man is man and his flesh makes him weak.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:19 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.