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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. Orwell prefers Guyana punch

    Sell your Teegeeack properties and move to Kolub, have meaningful conversations with L.Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith over dinner.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  2. Catca

    I haven't heard celebrities going to jewish temples or christian churches needing private entrances, etc. to enable them to worship undisturbed. But scientology takes it further than that with having actual celebrity centers. I'm sorry, but that just sounds odd when one is speaking of religious organizations. The exorbitant amounts of money required to gain access to their religious teachings is also odd and just doesn't comport with the experiences of other religions. Other religions may ask for voluntary contributions to help keep the church/temple/mosque, etc. going, but they are voluntary and are needed to cover administrative costs and for charitable works. No other religion that I know of requires you to spend exorbitant sums of money just to find out what they believe in. I don't doubt that some of Scientology's teachings probably do work and that it has some good aspects to it or it wouldn't be able to recruit and retain so many people (I don't buy that it is that difficult for all of their members to leave simply because of the logistics involved) , but there are a number of things they do that undermine their credibility.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  3. libdumb

    Weirdos. Please provide a list of Hollywood names so I never engage in any entertainment that they are involved with on TV or the Movies. Thanks but no thanks. The Geneva convention prohibits brainwashin

    July 11, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Bugmenot

      All you gotta do is Google " COS celebrities". The quotes are of course unnecessary.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  4. LORD XENU

    GIVE ME 32,000$ A MONTH OR FEEL MY WRATH.

    NO DISCOVER CARDS EITHER. I ONLY LIKE REAL MONEY

    July 11, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  5. Richard

    What can be said of a religion that needs Tom Cruise and other celebrities for it to be successful?

    <--– Does not need anyone else to tell me how I should act, think, feel, and believe

    July 11, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  6. johnquepublique

    The "religion" is a crock...nothing new here, folks. Let's move on...

    July 11, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  7. Gabriel Herrera

    Yup, created equal under god unless your Tom Cruise.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  8. Poolchick

    If you have to rely on getting celebrities to make people believe, then it's not worth believing in. Just sounds like another money grabber for all the suckers out there.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Bobby Steez

      I agree wholeheartedly.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Robert

      I was thinking the same thing. Christianity was started by a carpenter and was spread by the witness of a bunch of fishermen, yet it spread because it was a gospel of grace and truth. That's what the apostle John said, "and of His (i.e., Jesus) fulness we have all received, full of grace and truth.") On the other hand, sientology's gospel is more like, "and of their pockets I, Ron Hubbard, have received, full of silver and gold." This is so far removed for genuine Chritianity as handed down to us in the scriptures (the frauds don't count), where the apostle paul said, "we have become poor, that we might make many rich." Paul was right. He and the other apostles gave up his high and priveleged position as a Pharisee to take the form of an unpaid servant as he spread the news of Jesus Christ. And in the end, not only were there those who were rich in faith but whole nations have risen up and flourished because of following the principles of the gospel and the teachings of Christ, including the USA. Of course, we have now turned away from it, which is why we're no longer rich but rather, poor and bankrupt and about to go belly up.

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

      I think I may have misquoted a verse. It's "And of His (Jesus) fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace." The other was John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

      July 11, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  9. Bails

    I see nothing valuable about any "place" that won't allow me to walk out the door on my own.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  10. blayzekohime

    I think Cruise should be considered a liability for Scientology. After all, he's suppose to be 'high level' which sorta indicates he should be enlightened, but he totally doesn't act enlightened at all. He acts like an emotional child, which goes a long way to making them look bad, or like they let people buy their way to the top rather than earn it by actually being suitable for the position.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  11. daveinla

    I hear Cruise and Travolta are cleansed with by doing oral auditing on each other.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • no god

      Ha!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  12. Jim Ryan

    All religions are equally false because they all promote faith over reason. All are a "man forged manacle", as the late C Hitchens stated.

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

      just like man made global warming... exactly

      July 11, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Gabriel Herrera

      all religions are a guide book to live your life better. You choose to be unguided and that's ok. All people of faith are not false and don't believe in false things, we just think there's a higher being of some sort that created everything. God bless

      July 11, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • cw

      Except that scientific evidence points to man-made global warming. There is no evidence for a higher power.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Gary Sumner

      You are making too much sense Jim, what are you doing on this site!lol

      July 11, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      And like all other faiths Mr. Mile, this one was alos invented out of thin air.

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

      Religion is the connection between each human being and the universe. It is the organized religions that painted the current ugly pictures.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  13. Corkpuller

    Religions,Cults, Political Parties and Clubs will attract those who by into a way of thinking that compliments their personality and belief systems. Its a human trait. The freedom to do so exists here in the USA. Unless it harms others. So just stay away from the Kool aid.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  14. TODAY

    PLEASE GET IT OVER WITH THIS CELEBRITY TRASH...CELEBRITIES ARE OVERPAID PEOPLE WITH NO ACTUAL VALUE

    July 11, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • runner305

      So you're saying that Tom Cruise has no acting abilities, among other things?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What he's saying is that acting talent isn't worth millions and millions of dollars per film, nor the public adulation actors receive. Entertainers do not contribute to society in as meaningful a way as a structural engineer, a bus driver, a garbageman or a street sweeper.
      It wasn't long ago that actors were among the lowest caste in society, right along side prosti/tutes.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • TODAY

      Doc Vestibule...THANKS, you just explained well what I was going to say

      July 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      While I certainely agree with your thoughts on contributing to society, I must be honest in saying that the value is determined solely by those who pay the ticket price. So in that sense he is worth every penny. After all we all know Hollywood won't pay them if they aren't getting a return on them eh. Personally I am on board with you. I won't pay to see this guy.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  15. Sandra

    Scientology was based on a bet that Hubbard (a scifi author) made with a fellow science fiction author that he could create a religon. It isn't a real religon by any stretch of the imagination.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • tffl

      What do you consider a "real" religion? They are all equally silly when viewed by an outsider.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      @Sondra. Right you are about this. However, all religions came about in the same way. There may not have been a wager on it but they were all created by man at some point. None of them are real, except of course to the followers.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  16. salleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    It 's comments like Ken's that make people think we're the dumbest people on earth. If you're going to write something,
    learn to spell, punctuate, and sound half-way intelligent.

    It never fails to surprise me when I see the hatred so many people spew for people they don't know, really know nothing
    about, and have no reason to hate. Tom Cruise is a good actor and that's all we really know about him. Keep your
    hating comments to yourselves, people.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  17. g0bl0x

    When I look around in the world at everything humanity needs I always reach one conclusion: More false religions for weak minded people who can't come to terms with their mortality and be happy with their lives.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Gary Sumner

      Well Said!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Smiley

      @Big Bushy Mustache, Steve, and the other "know-it-alls" on here who insist those of us who have some type of fath are basically wasting our time – I hope your lives are good. Let the rest of us who choose to believe in a higher power do what we want; nobody forces you to do anything and most of us do not bother you. I do feel sorry for you though. When you face Christ at the end of your earthly life, may He have mercy on you. (I can see almost see it: Jesus: "Can you see me NOW?"

      July 11, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  18. cgs

    Major front page news? Come on, CNN, you are pathetic!

    July 11, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Bugmenot

      @ Smiley............. That was a good one. Peace be upon you and yours..

      July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  19. Gary Sumner

    ALL religions are cults! Convincing people that "invisible" beings control the fate of the world? REALLY? Religion is simply a big business way of controlling the masses (ie the gullible)

    July 11, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Andy

      Right. That's why you put your zodiac sign on your MySpace page...

      July 11, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

      The clergy are the best salesman on the planet bar none. Not only do they get you to believe in the invisible man. They get you to believe that he needs money. And that he has ten rules for you to follow. And that if you break any of them you will suffer in hell for eternity......but he loves you! It's all a goof. The biggest hoax ever perpetrated on man.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  20. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    In all fairness, I have never had a Scientologist come to my door and bother me, which is more than I can say for Xtians.

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

      That's because you're not what they want. Christians like trailer trash from Florida.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:14 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.