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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. Mel

    I just don't understand what scientology really represents. What are their values, beliefs, etc. They keep it very hush hush members only and just leaks here and there that make them seem too much like a cult. A cult with billions. Very scary. If they want people to be more open and understanding of their religion – they need to share to the public what is so great about scientology and why folks should join. But it seems as though they don't want you unless you are a celebrity. It's very smart of L Ron Hubbard, start a religion focused and catered strictly to celebrities with Millions. Celebrities bring in more publicity and more money and they all have big egos that scientology can milk. Very strange. John Travolta & Kelly Preston got strange when they joined too. L Ron Hubbard just looks like a smart Jim Jones.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      Read up on L Ron Hubbard and his past. He was a con artist and a shyster.

      At least Jim Jones had a bit of crazy believer in what he was doing.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  2. MrApplesauce

    I had a hard time figuring out the difference between a cult and a religion... now I know:

    "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."

    July 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  3. RLG

    In this article it states that certain celebrities were being zeroed in on for being recruited. Sounds like a Cult to me!

    July 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • sunpacific

      True. But, then again, requiring unquestioning devotion in the form of blind faith from the masses is what all religions do. By that definition, all religions are cults.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  4. Michael

    The more and more I hear about Scientology the more I wonder if it's like the religion from Isaac Asimov's Foundation. In it they took anyone who was intelligent enough to figure out that it was a sham and moved them to the top of the organization as priests. Those priests then ensured that the masses were taught rituals and rules that kept things moving and kept those masses in the dark as to the true nature of the religion.

    The thing that worries me the most is the idea that you have these auditing sessions and through auditing and sessions the parishioner divulges more and more about themselves, their secrets, their past. In a Catholic or Protestant church these bits of information would be considered sacrosanct, much like doctor/patient confidentiality (although not bound by law). It sounds as if, with Scientology, that the "Church" can use this information in order to enforce conformance AND if you are leaving the "Church" can use it against you, since you will be considered "Fair Game" at that point.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  5. Sara

    I am not a scientologist, so whatever you say about it doesn't really bother me. But when I saw this video, I was shell shocked – what would you call this????
    Please visit the link:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwOV8QF9d88

    July 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  6. blondie

    eeeeeech. Grossssssssss!

    July 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  7. AverageJoe76

    I wonder what challenges we'll have after religion has been settled. After cultural differences and racism have been settled. I know it looks bleek now, but humans have made significant strides in social justice. Even when it looks like change wont happen, sometimes it sneaks up on you.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  8. Big Bushy Mustache

    Tom Cruize is know in West Hollywood as "The Hoover" Just saying...

    July 11, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  9. Jim Ryan

    Actually religion and acting have a lot in common. Both create delusions as if they were some natural extension of reality. When is or primate species going to use its reasoning power to except the fact that there is no purpose to our lives? The universe is indifferent. You're here by mere change and statistics. True meaning comes to you when you see that it is far better to accept the universe as it truly is rather than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • JPX

      Well stated, Jim. Unfortunately the average person is a dope (e.g. see Sarah Palin) and when the majority are dopes you are stuck with religion. For the record, most of the high profile celebs in Scientology never went to college, if that tells you anything.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Lulu

      Acting creates an ILLusion (a fantasy-reality for others to see), not DElusion (your own fantasy-reality).

      July 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Sparky

      Let's assume you're correct – that we're all here by chance, the universe is indifferent, there is no purpose, etc. Then how exactly is it "better" to view it that way vs believing in something else, if believing in something else has particular benefits and makes your life better somehow? What actual personal difference is there between believing in some type of "religion" vs. not believing in one? The argument of 'how many people were killed in the name of religion does not apply because the 20th century alone proves that people will kill 10s of millions of others in the name of non-religious, even anti-religious political ideology. That belief in some type of "creator" or religion has been found in pretty much every human civilization ever discovered should be evidence to you that humans may have evolved to "believe" in something. I think the near religious zeal that many anti-religious people have about government, the environment on Earth (which by definition must be equally meaningless iin your view), and even about "religion" should be evidence of some type of innate need to "believe" in something. Mind you, I'm not defending religion by any means, and I'm not disagreeing with your view that there is no purpose to anything. I'm attacking your logic and reasoning: Somehow it is "better" to rise above a natural human animal state and see something as it is in reality, instead of the alternate, even though the alternate may make a human animal happier, and the inclination to be that way may have been instilled via natural selection. Quite the interesting value judgement about what has purpose and what doesn't, despite claiming that nothing does...

      July 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Sparky

      There is nothing well said above. The average person is not a dope – the average person is average. But the average person who claims that the average person is a dope, especially those who inject Sarah Palin as an example, is typically much less intelligent and much closer to average than they think they are. Jim's comments regarding it being "better" to see things one way, and discussing "true meaning" are value beliefs that fly in the face of his claim that he believes that there is no purpose for anything and the universe is indifferent. You see ... Jim's got some "religion" but doesn't quite recognize it.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  10. Spendlove

    "The world is carried on the backs of a desperate few," Hubbard is quoted on the site."

    That clown must have been joking, Celebrities are carried on the backs of everyone else... it's called the working class.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  11. Jim Ryan

    Actually religion and acting have a lot in common. Both create delusions as if they were some natural extension of reality. When is or primate species going to use its reasoning and except the fact that there is no purpose to our lives? The universe is indifferent. You're here by mere change and statistics. True meaning comes to you when you see that it is far better to accept the universe as it truly rather than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Y'all surely understand that atheism is itself a religion.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  12. david

    What a bunch of d-bags. Scientologists believe they can "Tone 40" you into believing anything they want. If someone thinks for themselves, then they're a criminal. Way to be understanding of the human condition and accepting of people, LRH. Irony is that Scientologists are being exposed for the criminals that they themselves are.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  13. A. Lincoln

    C-U-L-T

    July 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  14. Big Bushy Mustache

    Religion is the biggest hoax on mankind in all of history. Religion has prevented a utopian society from forming on Earth all in the name of power and greed and wealth. The sooner the whole world goes seculer, the better for mankind. Look to yourself for the answers not that big fat Marvel comic book known as the bible.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Sparky

      Religion has prevented utopia? One has to believe in an ideology with such zeal that it is no different than "religion" to believe that there could be a "utopia" in the first place! How did the anti-religious utopias of the 20th century work out? Don't mistake my response for defending religion. I believe that at the very minimum, humans evolved to "believe" in something. And people like you are at the extreme other end: You believe in something so strongly that you don't even realize that because it's not a "religion" or a diety that you believe in, you're still just as much a religious-type extremist. The belief in non-religious "utopia" on earth is responsible for at least as many deaths as those believing in a "god."

      July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  15. A. Lincoln

    Can you spell C-U-L-T?

    July 11, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  16. WachetAuf

    The Tom-Cat case is an example of the deceit, repression and tribalism which is key to the "obedience' which is foisted on the sheep by all organized churches. We can more easily see it in this instance because this particular church has been preaching its "Big Lie" for only a few short decades. It is virtually impossible to examine other belief systems because they have been foisting their "Big Lie" on the sheep for centuries. The sheep have become much too emotionally invested to ever "think"/"feel"/"believe" that they may have been deceived. Their primitive brains have become hard wired and they "obediently" accept the deceit. Tribal and herding instincts prevent any examination. Some of us can always hope, however, that something like the Tom-Cat scandal can happen to get the obedient sheep to finally examine the "Big Lie" before the final collapse. Regretfully, they are "obediently" and prayerfully awaiting, even preparing for, their "Armageddon". Be careful what you pray for. It may be granted.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  17. 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 11:49 am |
  18. Barneyjake

    Remember Jim Jones?

    July 11, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  19. Greg D

    You need permission to leave the church? yeah ok.. its called leaving and never going back. What are they going to do?
    Hubbard even stated its NOT A CHURCH !! he started it as a joke to make money, apparently it worked and he even drank the cool aid while laughing all the way to the bank.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  20. Big Bushy Mustache

    Jebus done lik me nomore......Iz got poo on my p p.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:47 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.