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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. Hypatia

    Any so-called 'church' that works to separate members from family and friends, that isolates them, is a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  2. Gary Sumner

    Scientology is almost as ridiculous as Christianity, Buddhism, Muslim, etc. It's all Fairy tales from long ago. People that believe ANY religiion is REAL are SUCKERS! Might as well just throw your money away now and save the time on sundays!

    July 11, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Bugmenot

      XE-NU IS YOUR FUTURE!

      July 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  3. Randy

    Just another cult people trying to control people and taking there money Tom is a retard and he cant see it

    July 11, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Knute

      Immature would be more accurate. Places his faith and religion in HIMSELF and no supreme being. Sad to see how hollywod would worship $ and faith in our currert president

      July 11, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  4. Jay

    Scientology is a brainwashing cult, period. No church has ever included interrogation and security check (I left 2 churches and was never subjected to either treatment).

    The future of Scientology doesn't bode well. I can see members leaving this false faith for another one or none at all. If Scientology wants to remain afloat, it needs to alter its doctrines and church policies. It has to detach itself from the harmful concept of brainwashing.

    I have never liked Scientology and never will.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  5. jross

    Ron Hubbard made a quote before he started scientology, something about "the way to get rich is to start a religion." ... as the old saying goes, there's a sucker born every minute.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  6. TheAmazingMrGeneric

    Hold on, I need to go. Since I've posted, there is a Scientology Zombie Apocolypse at my front door. I'll try to fend them off with truth as I am broke.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  7. DJay

    How do celebrities "add credibility" to the scientology mission? There's Hubbard's primary error, right there. No surprise, coming from a hack sci-fi writer / cretin.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  8. veep

    Make no mistake, it's a cult, not a religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Who invited me?

      and the difference is....????

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

      A cult centers around one overidealized individual while religion centers around its own congregation, not that individual. That's the main difference...

      July 11, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • jeff

      By definition all religions are cults. As is Catholisism etc... All the same, money pits for the "faithful"!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • AbbieM

      I don't acknowledge the concept of "religion," personally. If people believe in a person or god who has power over their daily lives, they are in a cult.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  9. M

    Any "church" that would have the likes of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley has no place for me.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • JoeJoe

      U might get invited to big coke party if U joined....come on we knows U like Big Fat Kristie.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  10. Blue

    I believe that Katie's family finally got what they wanted. They did not want Katie in this relationship from the start. If they had wanted this marriage to work, they would not have worked behind Tom's back to get Katie away from him. They are crazy if they think that Tom will not have an influence in Suri's life.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • jross

      Get off the board Tom, you're not fooling anyone.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  11. Orwell prefers Guyana punch

    Which is the true religion?
    Scientology or Mormonism?
    L.Ron. Hubbard or Joseph Smith?
    Which is more American?

    July 11, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • JoeJoe

      I want me some brunch and pink Kooolaide.......little rum added. Hows your little imaginairy friend feeling about now?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Kenny Bloch

      I would say it's a tie. You have given me a great idea. Recruit TC for VP. then we can all buy black pants / white shirts and sell pamphlets in africa

      July 11, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Orwell prefers Guyana punch

      @joebud, leaving Teegeeack tonight, will be in Kolub in the morning.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  12. In Memory Of Frank Garrett

    $cientology has slave camps called RPF camps, as well as force you to "disconnect" from your family if they do not like $cientology. There are many cases of people leaving and having to resort to movie like action sequences to just get away. Google it .

    July 11, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  13. Name*Ken

    WHO cares about this creature and his false religion! It is OUTRAGOUS seeing his name in the news, CNN. Are you getting kickbacks by keeping his stupid face in the media? I find it most disturbing...all of the problems in this world and this mutant gets top billing. No wonder the world thinks we americans are the dumbest people on earth!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  14. anne

    Her five year contract was up! She got her money and she's running!! She NEVER bought into the Scientology, that's just the public's reasoning. Let's hope he doesn't get anyone else to be his beard.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  15. ryantorgeson

    Just google "Xenu"

    July 11, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  16. Dick S

    This may be a big deal for the Scientologysts. But the real issue here is that Cruise has FAILED 3 times in marriage. Ok, many of us fail once and even twice. BUT 3 times is a waring to anyone interested in him, and not his money, to be "very, very careful!"

    July 11, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  17. justcause

    kudos to Holmes for standing her ground...or is it... it seems that Cruise women when they hit 34 he divorce them, so was the case of Nicole Kidman who looks flawless in her 40s...Tom Cruise needs more than Scientology audit...it seems that money is not buying him happiness

    July 11, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • MrLowe

      ...i think SHE divorced him. ...according to the media, at least.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  18. Good God

    I worship the Sun. It doesn't judge me, punish me, nor makes me kill other humans. It gives me life, provides me with Vitamin D, sunny days and cool nights.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • JoeJoe

      But when the SUN GOD goes to sleep and sets......leaves U in dark for 12 hrs.....on your own. Now what U do? Pray to moon ? Are U the tanniing mom ?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  19. carol

    The divorce doesnt say anything about scientology.It says something about celebrity marriages. Hopefully his beliefs will help him deal with the upheaval in his life, even though I find what I read about the faith to be puzzling.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • RoseMcB

      Actually, it DOES say something about Scientology. Quite a lot, in fact, simply because CoS touts its very expensive curriculum, auditing and belief system as clearing away all the mental debris that causes people to have these kinds of failings in their lives. Cruise himself has stated on their videos that he can alter reality for himself and others and manipulate his surroundings psychically. He's not the only one, btw. A lot of these people actually think that their success is due to their own channelings and mental focus on others and events to create opportunities for themselves. *cue Twilight Zone theme here*

      Obviously, they are kidding themselves. If it were true and possible, someone like Kirstie Alley wouldn't have exchanged a drug addiction for a food addiction, etc. Scientology is well-known for trying to scrub the gay away and that hasn't worked well either. They overlook it in some of their most visible celeb clients so long as it's kept on the down low.

      What Scientology is really all about is the money. Hubbard even said as much years ago when he realized how widely received Dianetics seemed to be. The wheels started turning and, rather than just be another self-help guru soon to fade, he decided to make it into a "religion", establishing more permanence and also gaining all the benefits of a "church", such as tax-free status, which they eventually did achieve, unfortunately.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  20. Stephen

    It is not a church in any regular sense. Though any religion can be deemed a cult by definition, this is a specialized cult for those who are rich and need to feel special and above others. Scientology is a bunch of BS.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Name*Ken

      Here, here!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Heather

      yes...you said it!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:12 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.