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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. jeremyjones948

    I'm interested in starting a cult and making a ton of cash. If you are like minded ping me at jeremy dot don dot jones at gmail dot com so we can start putting this thing together.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  2. AverageJoe76

    Secrecy has always been a turn-off to me concerning beliefs. Why are there secrets in a 'religion'? What is being kept from the public? I don't like cults. But I do like women...... so I can see joining an exclusive gentlemen's club. Just saying..

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

      Join the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints then. Their religion is all about having as many women around you as you can manage. And exclusivity? They're holed up in remote mountain region!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      Weeee-Hoooo!! Then I'mma packin' the wagon, an' headin' west!!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  3. denise

    So much for religious freedom in this country. Look I don't have to like his religion but let people choose what they want.
    Do we explore what Islam is or Jehovah Witnesses, or the doctrines of Baptist..And do we dig through which celebs are Muslims
    or devout christians. Are we going to start examining other celebrities in the media who are Scientologist. Sounds like a certain era we left in the 50's. Blacklisting and calling anybody a communist. Look what goes on behind the scenes in Catholic Churches for example...that's what we've become.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  4. moi

    not free to leave? ummmm yea.... of course theres something wrong about all of it... weirdos

    July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  5. jack

    God I love cults!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  6. anniet

    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."

    that has all the earmarks of a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  7. cc423

    "...the Church regrets that excommunicated self-serving apostates are sadly exploiting private family matters to further their hate-filled agendas against their former faith." And that's all you need to know about this nasty cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  8. jeremyjones948

    its not all bad. it helps a few people get rich as f$%$

    July 11, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  9. gofigure

    If you go to any bookstore to buy something written by Hubbard you will find it in the fiction department. Scientology is a rich persons cult. Same people probably think Lord of the Rings is non-fiction.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • SR

      Yet no one questions the majority of Americans who believe that a god sacrificed himself in the form of a man and then rose from the dead.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  10. jpw2011

    Scientology is the most idiotic "religion" out there. It's even more ridiculous than mormonism.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • B

      I don't know about that. For example, Buddhist think that they can fool their minds into believing that everything in life is good without needing anything or anyone, just the ability to trick, I mean, control your own mind. Pretty selfish and delusional. Oh, and the only way to complete liberation from the cycle is to follow the strict Buddhist path to enlightenment (basically becoming a monk or nun). Again, pretty selfish. But hey, whatever works for the individual.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  11. ScottCA

    Scientology was a tax evassion scheme launched by a less than medocore writer. The scheme soon grew into a wide spread con for peoples money, with the top officials of the fake church being ex convicts and con-artists.

    Faith based Religion is in its self always a foolish endevor, but scientology takes the cake in pure diocy. Seriously B52 looking alien space craft dropping carbon frozen evil alien spirits into volacnos on earth??? One has to be a complete and untter imbecile to believe such asinine lies.

    Faith demands one to believe even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Thus, faith demands the supression of logic and reason. Such subjegation of the mind in of itself is dangerous, as it distorts the logical plane and sends out ripples thatwill be felt in all areas of study. The en result will be the unnecissary suffering of people.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • independentlyowned

      Any less idiotic than believing Joseph Smith read off of gold plates that only he could see, and once his transcripts were destroyed he magically found another set of gold plates, and that he had a divine calling to marry multiple teenage girls?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • ll

      You are so lost ScottCA; and you don't know how to spell either. Why do people think it's ok to post comments with no thought to spelling or grammar?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. jeremyjones948

    I was recruited by the church of Scientology when I was a freshman at UT Austin back in the mid nineties. Everything was awesome until I detected hesitation around the subject of how much I would be paid. When they finally came round to saying that I wouldn't be paid anything at all, I said, 'okay this is cool, but I'm out'. I need like minimum wage here or something. I put down the fancy electronic toys and walked out. That's my 20 min with Scientology.

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

    Divorce in Scientology is a sin. Upon death, one is forced to swab the poop deck of the "alien devil" mothership for eternity.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  14. all religions are cults LOL

    nuff said

    July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  15. Rick Shaw

    For the Message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are on the way to perdition, but it is the power of God to those whom He is saving.

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

      Amen! nuff said

      July 11, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • ll

      Amen!

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

      Amen Brother!!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  16. PumpNDump

    Catholics are just as crazy and ludicrous as scientologists. All are myths to extract money from the "believers".

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

      Ah yes, I didn't even have to scroll down one page before some idiot starts attacking the Catholic Church. How dare you compare that to Scientologists! Ignorant fool!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  17. ELH

    Any societal group that demands your allegiance and presupposes your belief system is a cult. Thus, all religions are de facto cults and Scientology is one of the foremost, along with Mormonism, Catholicism, Islam and the Jewish faith. Best to steer clear of them.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  18. Jacob

    Tom Cruise seemed like less of a dick before he became a scientologist.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  19. Jimi

    "Is there a bigger name than Tom? We called him TC."
    Yes there is His name is Jesus Christ. We call Him "J.C." Another mis-guided man-made religion to distract man from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Again it's not about religion, church or being good. We are saved by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. There are no loopholes here, only Jesus. Know B4 you go. Don't become another eternal fatality. God Bless.

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

      Newsflash: Christianity is man-made too!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Blunt Object

      Sorry to break it to you Jimi, but your religion is also man-made, as are all others.

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

      The irony in this post is incredible.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • A W Messenger

      Preach it Jimi! All we can do is share the Good News. Anyone who wants to make fun of it, or mock it, is making their own decisions. We glorify JC when we share just like you did.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • ThatDCGuy

      Aren't you precious! Look at you, attempting to talk... all that comes out though is baby babble, so cute Jimi! So Cute!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Who invited me?

      A W Messenger
      A book created by men that is 2000 years OLD is not news...it is the opposite of news...by definition.
      You guys need to change your rhetoric

      July 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Jimi

      Again not religious. I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Religion is for the hypocrites who like to play church on Sunday and then do whatever they want the rest of the week. Your choice. Eternity is a long time to be wrong.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • LindaMae

      AMEN Jimi

      July 11, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Dan

      How very pedantic of you "Who invited me", if I told someone everyone in the company got a raise when they got back from vacation for a month, it would be news to them. I can promise all non-believers out there that there is plenty of logic and facts out there supporting the view of a Creator, and there are plenty the other way as well. There is also a great deal of irony in non-believers heckling people of faith for being blind and ignoring facts

      July 11, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • LinCA

      @Dan

      You said, "I can promise all non-believers out there that there is plenty of logic and facts out there supporting the view of a Creator, and there are plenty the other way as well."
      Promises, promises. Please, instead of claiming that there are facts that support a creator, how about you present your "facts" and "logic"?

      You said, "There is also a great deal of irony in non-believers heckling people of faith for being blind and ignoring facts"
      Again, provide your "facts".

      July 11, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Dan

      ??? Honestly LinCA? If you haven't seen any good facts or logic supporting a creator than you haven't spent much time unbiasedly looking into the subject. My intent isn't to spend hours posting, for a few reasons. But I could spend pages just going into the odds of life forming on its own. I don't have enough faith to be an athiest.

      As to your second part, in the context of my sentence, those facts would be ones against a God existing (not just the God of the bible, but a God in general). While those are out there, they are much much weaker than the ones that "disprove" the bible. But again I dont have hours to spend right now posting

      July 11, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • LinCA

      @Dan

      You said, "??? Honestly LinCA? If you haven't seen any good facts or logic supporting a creator than you haven't spent much time unbiasedly looking into the subject."
      I have looked into the subject. It's the reason why I can say that there aren't any facts that support a creator.

      You said, "My intent isn't to spend hours posting, for a few reasons. But I could spend pages just going into the odds of life forming on its own."
      I'm not asking for hours or pages. All I ask for is one or two "facts".

      You said, "I don't have enough faith to be an athiest."
      *atheist

      In short, you have a preconceived notion of a creator (probably the god that your parents believed in), and prefer the false security of believing that nonsense over the possibility that we aren't special in any way and simply the product of random chance.

      Your only "fact" for your creator is your own refusal, or inability, to rationally look the case, or lack thereof, for it.

      You said, "As to your second part, in the context of my sentence, those facts would be ones against a God existing (not just the God of the bible, but a God in general)."
      The god of the bible is impossible as it is said to have contradictory traits.

      You said, "While those are out there, they are much much weaker than the ones that "disprove" the bible."
      Rational evaluation of the bible should lead any reasonable person to reject it as ancient myths and fables. It's all obvious bullshit.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Dan

      @LinCa

      Haha, ok first off please stop using blanket statements that "Atheist" (my most sincere apologies for mixing up two letters) use to describe why non-believers are so much more modern and evolved in their thinking than theists.

      In short, you have a preconceived notion that there isn't a creator creator (probably the belief your parents held), and prefer the false security of believing that nonsense over the possibility that you might have to live your life differently in order to obey God.... see what I did there?

      Now that thats out of the way...

      You said, "I have looked into the subject. It's the reason why I can say that there aren't any facts that support a creator."
      You couldn't find any? This is where you were simply biased in your findings, or you just didn't look. If you walked along an ocean and saw a 20 foot tall intricate sand castle, you would probably assume someone made it. The fact is that it could not have randomly formed, even in 1 million years. break down the most simple life form, a single celled organism, and you will find the unbelievable complexity of DNA. Charles Dawin said this about the chance that the human eye evolved "I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree". Micro evolution is going on, macro evolution is another thing. Disproving evolution does not prove a God exists, however it does show me that something else has to be at play, or the theory needs to be rewritten.

      Even if I did accept that life could form on its own, if extremely small things were different in this world , and even in the rules of physics and universe, than life would not be possible. Heck planets and matter would not be possible. The magnetic field, gravity, light, distance from the sun, bonds of atoms. Those are all facts.

      People think that if life wasn't here than of course everything else would be, but even that depends on very small things.

      If you don't believe that there could be a God, than of course you wouldn't ever believe the bible. I'm pretty sure many people wouldn't believe a book that told stories of moving electrons lighting up whole cities a thousand years ago.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Dan

      You said, "Haha, ok first off please stop using blanket statements that "Atheist" (my most sincere apologies for mixing up two letters) use to describe why non-believers are so much more modern and evolved in their thinking than theists."
      I didn't use any blanket statements. I was addressing your comment and your line of reasoning. The only somewhat generalization I used was in regard to rationally evaluating the bible. If that's what got your knickers in a twist, you may not want to comment here. The bible is so full of holes and inconsistencies that, if you don't already believe it to be true, you'll likely never will.

      You said, "In short, you have a preconceived notion that there isn't a creator creator (probably the belief your parents held), and prefer the false security of believing that nonsense over the possibility that you might have to live your life differently in order to obey God.... see what I did there?"
      I see what you did, and you are wrong. I used to be a believer, just like my parents. Rational evaluation of all the nonsense that I was exposed to, all the way through high school (I attended church affiliated schools), led me to shed my beliefs. The complete and utter lack of any evidence in support of any god(s) led me to dismiss them.

      You said, "Now that thats out of the way..."
      You didn't challenge my assertion that you have a preconceived notion about a creator instilled in you by your parents, so I'll assume that I was correct.

      You said, "You couldn't find any? This is where you were simply biased in your findings, or you just didn't look."
      All the "evidence" is rooted in ignorance. They all basically come down to the belief that there must be a creator because the believer can't, or refuses to, believe otherwise. Believers look at complexity and assume there must have been a creator because they are incapable of comprehending anything else.

      The only way to get to a creator is to start off with one. The problem with a creator, of course, is that the main question remains the same. If a creator started it all, where did the creator come from?

      Claiming magic to "answer" your questions, doesn't really answer them.

      You said, "If you walked along an ocean and saw a 20 foot tall intricate sand castle, you would probably assume someone made it."
      I would assume that because I have seen it happen before. None 20 feet tall, though. A 20 feet tall sand castle would lead me to suspect other building materials than simply sand and water were used.

      You said, "The fact is that it could not have randomly formed, even in 1 million years."
      Not a fact, but even if it was, so what?

      You said, "break down the most simple life form, a single celled organism, and you will find the unbelievable complexity of DNA."
      The fact that we haven't conclusively established how life formed, or how the universe formed, lends no credence to your particular pet hypothesis.

      You said, "Micro evolution is going on, macro evolution is another thing. Disproving evolution does not prove a God exists, however it does show me that something else has to be at play, or the theory needs to be rewritten."
      Good luck disproving macro evolution. But even if you could, as you mentioned, it wouldn't support your case.

      You said, "Even if I did accept that life could form on its own, if extremely small things were different in this world , and even in the rules of physics and universe, than life would not be possible. Heck planets and matter would not be possible. The magnetic field, gravity, light, distance from the sun, bonds of atoms. Those are all facts."
      Yet not a single one of those facts establishes that there must have been a creator. They are all merely prerequisites for life to occur. Had any of those been any different, we wouldn't have been around to know the difference.

      You said, "People think that if life wasn't here than of course everything else would be, but even that depends on very small things."
      Not something I claim.

      You said, "If you don't believe that there could be a God, than of course you wouldn't ever believe the bible."
      I never said that I believe there can't be gods. The lack of evidence for any, causes me not to believe there are any. I don't dismiss the possibility, however miniscule, that there are gods, but without evidence for them it's ridiculous to believe they exist.

      The bible is just plain nonsense. Critical reading of it, and in particular the parts pertaining to your god, should lead anyone to reject it.

      You said, "I'm pretty sure many people wouldn't believe a book that told stories of moving electrons lighting up whole cities a thousand years ago."
      probably not, but we have some pretty conclusive evidence for that phenomenon now. What's your point? As soon as believers provide a rational case for their god, substantiated with some evidence, we can seriously look at it. Until ten, all you have is speculation and conjecture.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  20. GAW

    Looks like Tom wont be jumping on a couch for Oprah anymore.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:11 am |
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About this blog

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.