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. Joe

    K.I.T. Keep it together, Keep it together, Keep it together

    July 11, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  2. warnercc

    Not to many religions have positions like Commanding Officer or consider members as senior level members. What's next, parades with goose stepping?

    July 11, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • TheAmazingMrGeneric


      July 11, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Bugmenot

      I dunno about goose-steppin'. That didn't work too good for Adolph.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Sue

      Actually many religions and other cults do have equivalent/similar positions to "commanding officer". "Pope" and "Archbishop" come to mind, for other popular cults.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  3. sarge

    For TC to marry a woman is probably an impossible relationship.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  4. paganguy

    Churches are criminal organizations. They steal your soul and your money.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  5. Mary Manuel

    And what is it about all the secrecy and the fact that you can't just LEAVE this so-called church without permission that these "drink the koolaid" celebrities find so appealing....oh wait, never mind, I just answered my own question... drink the koolaid. Why don't these people use their brains and stop being sucked in by all the VIP treatment they get from a "church" that clearly makes it a priority to get their claws into them to further their own agenda. It's amazing how completely clueless these people are.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  6. justcause

    Scientology sounds like a case of Psychotherapy treatment .....there is nothing religious about Scientology..it is more like a philosophical argument that you can't debate since there is not right or wrong in philosophy which remain a theory

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

    It was an interesting article. I had a roommate who was looking into Scientology and taking lessons. I was taking what I call "Psychological training" seminars that lasted for several weeks it was called Impact Training. There were processes where each of us could look at our limiting beliefs. However, some people used those tools to be more manipulative.
    Anyway my roommate and I spoke about the training's and I noticed how similar they were. However something seems to change in Scientology as you go up the ladder of leadership. He told me his friend wanted to leave the church, yet they threatened to kill him if he tried. Maybe that is why Karen Pressley says she too is concerned for her safety??

    July 11, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  8. mat

    Research their fair game practice and tell me its a religion. Ive worked for them and dated them (never knowing until I suffered extreme discrimination including stalking and breaking and entering) while they attempted to recruit me. I blew them off and told them if I wanted a religion Id go with the magic apple and it all went down hill from there. The FBI needs to investigate. Instead we have the gov locking up people for holding bible studies in the privacy of their own homes because they dont have a permit (2 violations of the 1st admendant).

    July 11, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  9. ME II

    Some resources opposing Scientology:


    July 11, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  10. mommycat

    Good for Ms. Holmes. She got out when the getting was good. How many women are seriously controlled by a much older man, whether he be a raging egomaniac, Scientology Freak or any other type of guy. The joke in our neighborhood was "well, any bets on how long this will last?" May-December relationships, are created by money, biology( she is fertile, therefore, he has the "wow" factor of strutting her on the street- envy of his age or professional peers) their own ego importance in their career field, etc. Take Donald Trump, except for the first wife, the other two were/are younger.Do you think they controlled their own world or lifestyle...Absolutly not! This list goes on and on.

    She got out because Suri was going to the next stage of their indoctrination. Kudos on the post saying that this "religion was created by a science fiction author" Speaks volumes. If you need to rely on someone else(Scientology) for every thing, you have lost your own voice.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. mttrailboss

    It's about time, that our United States House of Representatives and Senate take a closer look at Scientology, and find out if they believe, it is a church ? Millions of people believe it is NOT a church and should not have church status.. Is it a church and does have to pay taxes, and Scientology brings in millions of dollars per year ? Is it a 'cult' ? Millions of people believe, that it is a 'cult' and somewhat dangerous, including what they do some of their members. Many ex-members' of Scientology have lost their life savings and everything else financially, because Scientology and their practices.. They (Scientologist) will 'hound you to death', to not leave Scientology and 'ask or demand more money' from you and your family. Do you know, how many Scientologist or ex-Scientologist 'have committed suicide', because of Scientology and their aggressive behavior toward members and especially ex-members' ?? In run's into the hundreds, if not thousands of members and ex-members.. Scientology is not a church and their behavior toward members and ex-members is deplorable. All Scientology wants is your money and total control over you, especially your money.. The U.S. House of Representatives and our Senate members' should have hearings on Scientology and their practices, especially about money, and if they are a real church or not.. Are they a real church ? Are they a 'cult' ? Do they agressively go after members and ex-members' for more money ? Why don't they pay taxes' ? Are they more of a 'cult' corporation, that a church ? The House and Senate will have lots of questions to ask the leadership, members and ex-members' about Scientology, and their practices.. It's time for a 'House and Senate hearings' on Scientology, before more members and ex-members' get hurt physically and financially from Scientology, and their aggressive practices. Scientology is NOT a church and should pay taxes.. Mike in Montana

    July 11, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • mc

      Just curious. How is Scientology any different than Catholicism or Judaism or any other religion? To me they are all cults. Why is one cult acceptable and another not?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  12. Moscowjor

    What a bunch of self-absorbed fruit cakes with apparently no self confidence. Permission to leave?! That's a mouth full!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  13. sf

    news flash...your religion and ALL religions are nutty! bunch of idiots practicing in every religion known to man...wouldn't join either!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  14. Tammy

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

    Yes, because celebrities are the most credible and intelligent people on earth. o_O

    July 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Veritas

      Because people, like it or not, have an interest in what celebrities do and are more likely to at least experiment with what they do.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  15. Glen

    CNN isn't biased. They hate all "religions or forms of spirituality". Now if Tom was an atheist , CNN would spin this very positively 🙂

    July 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • ME II

      If CNN were so biased against religion, why would they have a "Belief Blog" in the first place. I'm sure they could trash religion just fine without it.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  16. blugirl

    Any "religion" where you have to ask permission to leave and go through an intensive interrogation to do so, is just plan messed up. Freedom of religion means you can practice or NOT practice when ever you want! No "religion" should ever have that much control over anyone, ever.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  17. Jean Sartre

    I don't really see the issue here... ALL religions are cults...

    To see a Catholic call a Scientologist crazy is perhaps the quintessential stupidity, if not hypocrisy…

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

      pentessential mebbe

      July 11, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  18. P. JOSH

    All religion are a scam.
    Anyone ever wonder why is it that the leader of any church,congregation or temples always do better financially in life then the parishioners,well it,s because the followers are the ones bringing the money to these crooks,the Pope number one of those crooks.

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

      The Pope has nothing to do with Scientology.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Guest

      You are sadly misguided in your logic.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Mario

      all religions are man made, but there is a God. True and Living God. when man humbles himself to accept that he is not god and that there is one God and humbles himself before God, than he will be in a position to accept the Truth instead of make believe or self will. but dont worry, we will see at the end of our lives whether this is true or not.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • mayfiat

      P. Josh, dont be a dork...really? This isnt about the Catholic church, its about Tom Cruise and his 3rd divorce being a bad rep on scientology.

      The leader, L Ron Hubbard, is the one at the helm of this "religion."

      Please stop trying bait people into an online argument about catholisicm to deter people from discussing the ideas that scientology is wierd. Stick to the subject – please.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. TheAmazingMrGeneric


    College dropout, convicted of petty theft and fraud, stole other friends girlfriends with no recourse and dabbled in the occult. Again, I'll pass on the Scientology Kool Aid thank you.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • P. JOSH

      Though you have a point,but check this out.
      Catholic church killed millions steal their gold and other treasures,forced Indians to convert at gunpoint if not kill them,burn people at the the stick and so on,they are all the same.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • TheAmazingMrGeneric

      Sorry for the double comment. My itchy trigger finger is on fire this morning :p

      July 11, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • TheAmazingMrGeneric

      @ P. Josh – thanks for the comment. 🙂
      I won't speak to other religions and their attrocities in the name of their god. I stated in an earlier post that it's up to the individual to establish a relationship with their higher power if they choose. Cheers!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  20. Mike

    Wow, if people are terrified to leave this Church, it can't be much better than organized crime.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Josh

      With tax benefits...

      July 11, 2012 at 10:43 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.