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. Draxta

    There is not a scandal on earth that can hurt any religious organization. The Catholic Church continues on, regardless of how many children were molested by priests. The 3rd divorce of Tom Cruise won't put a dent in Scientology's ability to recruit.

    As long as we have people in this world who are incapable of thinking for themselves, or who have been so damaged by their upbringing, or who just plain lack any common sense or moral compass, then religion will always be there to take a soft, pliable, and mentally inept brain and infect it further with more garbage. The more meat rots, the more flies it attracts.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Bugmenot

      The last part of your profound verbosity ain't quite right.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  2. adam

    These guys are a bunch of quacks. Goodness. If any group is more out of touch than politicians, it's actors.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  3. Byrd

    Like all religions, with the possible exceptions of Buddhism and Taoism, Scientology, which is truly only an opium pipe dream, quasi-religion, depends upon one thing and one thing only: gullibility. Add ignorance to that mix and you also naturally attract the likes of Tom Cruise and Vinnie Barbarino.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  4. Not All Docs Play Golf

    L.Ron Hubbard is my God. I worship at the altar of Tom Cruise, too. I also believe that there is a committee of pink elephants who will judge us and send us on our way into an everlasting video game arcade upon our earthly deaths. Well, I may speak in jest, but it makes just as much sense as any of the Catholic dogma that I grew up with and ultimately rejected upon reaching cerebral adulthood.

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

      don't forget your magic underwear.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  5. BBPatriot

    Why do religious groups professing to hold the truths of humaniity and the universe seem to need militant organizations to enforce those truths? When a religion needs a group like Sea Org to keep the faithful in line, where's the faith?

    July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Bugmenot

      To keep Xenu's minions at bay duh

      July 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Steve

    Why doesn't the media address the real reason Tom keeps getting divorced. Let me spell it out for everyone he's G A Y and that's a fact.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  7. MiddleWay14

    Scientology: bull sh! t religion just like every other religion.

    The only differnce is that this nonsense has unfolded in our lifetime as opposed to a long time ago.

    This should be a warning to everyone to realize before it is too late that the truth of reality is only discoverable through testable, repeatable, and observable evidence and phenomena. The realm of the natural encompasses everything in utter and total completeness. There is no nether realm or supernatural realm. Everything that ever was, is, and ever will be is here, right now, surrounding you (including you, in fact). Our sensory-perceptual and cognitive shortcomings may prevent us from grasping this totality at the moment, but continually-refined technology helps to facilitate its uncovering as time goes by. Will we ever know all there is to know? No, probably not. But we will continue to get closer and closer like an asymptote approaching reality.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  8. ggrieser

    There's little doubt that celebrities involved with scientology view themselves as better than the general public and certainly better than any religion per se. They're so special, in their own mind, that they need their own beliefs that are as unique and superior as they are; the others are simply too bourgeois. Tom will decide he's better than scientology and will eventually drop it like all his wives dropped him. He'll talk about it like someone gives a carp in some dumb interview on OWN. Then he'll move on to the next scheme to surpass his worldly fame and transcend into sainthood, like he always knew he would because he's so special. AHAHAHA Chef, Travolta, Cruise. not sure if I should laugh or feel sorry. I"m sure scientology could top the list of the dumbest things people believe in. Thanks L. Ron, great stuff. Mabye the best d bag detector ever made.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  9. revelations 13:7

    yes, worship the celebrity lifestyle... seeing how their all in some bizarre cult together. only difference between the wacko in WACO and Cruise is MONEY

    July 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  10. Jessica

    I'm not a Scientologist, but this article seems very bigoted. Just because someone's beliefs are different than ours doesn't mean it's ethical to take them out of context and paint them as crazy. On course to an outsider they'll seem crazy. I wish people would think eads their heads a little more before becoming so reactionary.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Xenu

      Ummm...we are all inhabited by aliens called Thetans. Xenu is an evil alien warlord that came to this planet 75 million years ago to relieve population stresses on other planets. Scientologists have to pay to get "audited" to remove Thetans from their bodies. Any of this sound strange? It should. Of course, no stranger than a guy with horns and a pitchfork trying to get you to do bad things so he can burn you in a fiery pit for eternity. Silly stuff to be sure.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  11. Ray

    Any time you're actually afraid to depart from a church, it's no longer a religion, it's a cult. What inner knowledge could be so binding that apostates are afraid for lives, after departing? I know for sure genuine Christianity has no such binding force on the lives of its converts, but people are free to leave as they please.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      Yes they are free to leave, but will burn in hell for all eternity. How is that any better?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  12. Big Bushy Mustache

    Religion is the opiate of the masses. Jesus is a comic book character at best. God is a Higgs-Boson particle.

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

      Atheism is the pinnacle of arrogance in assuming you understand the universe you live in and you become the comic book character that fantasizes of being omnipotent.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • TimTom

      And you are a complete idiot.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • false

      You can't generalize about atheists that way... well, you can, but it is a ridiculous set of assumptions.

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

      TimTom, I'm with you. Big Bushy is.... a complete moron.

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

      Religion is the height of arrogance. Assuming humans are so important to a creature that spans, controls and is the universe. And then to assume they understand such a god and can speak for it. The height of Narcissism and arrogance are embodied in these religions. Belief is derived from a need to feel important in a universe that is so vast that the entire human race is not worthy of any notice.
      Face it folks, we are only important to ourselves and some subset of other humans. If you need to feel that there is an infinite god of some sort that cares what you do, feel free to believe it. But stop trying to make everyone else conform to your personal fairy tale.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  13. Steve

    The funny thing is, I bet in 1000 years, Hubbard will have morphed into another christ. This is how things like this get started. Jesus never actually existed as proven by his glaring omission in every contemporary historians account, the story just got written in decades/centuries later with the brainwash program. I can see this happening with hubbard.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • TC

      I like how your atheist agenda tries to assert it own version of history – just like the scientologists. You are as crazy as they are.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Big Bushy Mustache

      Yes thats a good point. Let the story age and ferment for a while. You will have another false prophet. Probably a terrorist oprganization to go with it for good measure.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      This is what the game of telephone is like after 1,000 or 2,000 years.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      News flash from the year 2200:

      "Scientologist suicide bombers attack Church of Elvis! Film at Eleven"

      July 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  14. Mehphisto

    "Way back when the prophecies began
    Do you think they really had a master plan
    Or were they merely writing fables, stories?"

    July 11, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  15. Big Bushy Mustache

    This whole scientology thing is to throw the media off the scent of the real issue. Tom Cruise likes men!

    July 11, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Steve

      Exactly, that's a fact. I have friends in the West Hollywood Sheriff's Dept. and they used to tell me that Tom Cruise kept a boy friend in an apartment there.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  16. Presian

    Tom Cruise is not a true member of Scientology. He is one of those who pays to get "clear". True Scientologists have to sign a billion year contract, stop all communication with the outside world, work a forty hour week for fifty cents and hour, and THEN have to take classes for another 6 hrs a day. I know, because I used to be in that creepy cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • yea... you know..

      so much confidence, so few facts.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  17. zaglossus

    Why anyone would join a "church" because of a celebrity is beyond me. Many movie stars are stupid and college dropouts (if they even got that far.)

    July 11, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • yea... you know..

      so easy to generalize about celebrities. They are all the same person. (apparently).

      July 11, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yet the sheeple will follow anyone that seems important. No matter how unimportant the reason is.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  18. JoJo

    It's amazing how people who seem otherwise perfectly intelligent and talented (e.g., Cruise, Mel Gibson) can subjugate their minds to comforting nonsense.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Oh, you mean like catholics, christians,muslims, jews, hindus, bhuddists, etc, etc, etc....

      July 11, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • dave

      can you be atheist and not obnoxious?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • funny

      Yes Dave... you have to have more faith in us. 🙂

      July 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Who invited me?

      what is obnoxious about pointing out that her statement fits a lot more than she thought?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Obnoxious = pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  19. Michele Gallagher

    L. Ron Hubbard was a tortured schizophrenic who at one point begged the govt for Mental Health treatment. Hmmmm

    July 11, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Xenu

      When I return everyone will pay for their indiscretions! (Love that Tom Cruise guy.)

      July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  20. mc

    Scientology, like all religions, is a place for weak people to get strength.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • TC

      I find the weakest people are those that think they have it all figured out – good luck with your delusion of knowledge.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      "I find the weakest people are those that think they have it all figured out – good luck with your delusion of knowledge"

      So anyone with a belief in a higher power then?

      July 11, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      We do not claim to have everything figured out. We just try to think on it instead of relying on a 2,000 year old collection of myths written by PEOPLE who thought the Earth was flat and the center of everything.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:44 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.