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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. nvvmeac

    "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion."

    July 11, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • nvvmeac

      ^^^ a quote by L. Ron Hubbard

      July 11, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • Peter

      True look at the Catholic Church, Church of England etc!

      July 11, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  2. Jacob Tysz

    When your "list" of celebrities (after John Travolta) only includes Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley, your list is not that impressive.....

    July 11, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Peter

      Did you forget that train wreck of plastic surgery, no talented Priscilla Presley and that idiot greedy stuck up daughter of hers, Lisa Marie?

      July 11, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • nvvmeac

      Don't forget mega A-Listers Juliette Lewis and Jason Lee. Their list of critically acclaimed roles goes knows no bounds.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Jacob Tysz

      I find it odd that the media seems to want to make the COS more popular than it actually IS with so-called "celebrities"....

      July 11, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • SR

      Actually, Jada Pinkette Smith is reportedly a Scientologist as is her husband Will Smith. Both were brought into the fold by Tom Cruise when Jada was in a movie (Collateral) with Tom in 2004. Since then Will Smith and Jada have started a controversial new school in the Hollywood area that is based on Scientologist principals that supposedly they send their kids to (when they send their kids to school.
      Also if you remember shortly after moving to LA the Cruises became very good friends with David and Posh Beckham in trying to court them over (I would assume).

      July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • MR

      I've heard about the Beckhams too. I think Posh was strong enough not to get influenced by them. Their middle son needs treatment for epilepsy (one of the reasons they move to LA) and COS is against it. Go Posh Go.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Duff

    If the church wants to recruit more celebrities, I have a suggestion. Find out who are the celebs with the lowest IQs and go after those people. Presto. Job done.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • BosMonkey

      Or the ones with the biggest insecurities. It's like a pimp waiting for 'lost' children at a bus station.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • MR

      They pray on people; at most vulnerable time. Millionaires, celebs especially.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  4. Donald in CA

    Scientology is a cult pure and simple. If you want to belong to a cult, join up with them. Havent anyone figured out why Katie got herself and the kid out of there.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • Jan

      all religions are cults!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • nvvmeac

      ^^^ then Scientology is some sort of litigious mega cult.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Guest

      Jan-You are wrong. Look up the difference between religion and cult, because, there IS a big difference!

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

      The difference between religion and a cult is the age and how big it is. If there's a major religion that doesn't preach at the very least keeping to your own members for positive fellowship, I haven't found it.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Jimbo

      Actually, the biggest difference between a cult and a religion is how long it's been around. All religions started out as cults...not that I'm defending scientology.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  5. saggyroy

    Hey Tom, the eighties called, they want their "Member's Only" jacket back.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  6. popseal

    As most of us Christians are Biblically illiterate and haven't any idea of a behaviorial base line, such a line does exist. Scientologists are as lost as a Southern Baptist goose flying South in the Summer.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  7. John Tighe

    It's creepy how the freak show tried to make it seem like their founder Hubbard was still alive after his death in the Eighties. I remember a billboard in LA that had a photo of Hubbard playing tennis. The caption said, "__ best sellers, and more to come". Later in the Nineties I saw that Hubbard still had a column in their giveaway; talk about "ghost written".

    July 11, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  8. MightyMoo

    Who would want to join an organization that actively splits families up when one member is deemed an enemy of the church? Seriously religions that encourage families to shun other members for having differing opinions isn't much of a real church but more of a cult or a snake oil sales shop.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • stargill70

      shunning family members is what the amish do to.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  9. yikes

    Scientology is not a church – it is a cult. They like to throw around words which sound like any other religion – the use of the words parishioners, faith, etc. but they are not a religon. The tax break they get from the IRS is not for a non-profit religious church – it is an education tax break. This cult will always be just that – a CULT. Beware of members.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:27 am |
  10. clarke

    Well, what ever works for you.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  11. Tim Hurley

    What a horrible, graceless hustle scientology is. Absolutely as vapid as life can be...never being good enough. One can't even call it conditional love as love never enters into the equation. It's all about the Benjamins.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  12. Jt_flyer

    I really like watching the videos of these photo sessions. These so-called stars look rediculas striking their poses.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  13. Two Toe Joey aka Jim Jones

    You need permission to leave the church ? She is afraid forher life ? Sounds like a weird religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • rs1201

      Never mind weird...the govt should investigate that church if its members are afraid for their safety if they decide to leave it...this is America and the 21st century...what the heck is going on with these people!
      I'm really amazed that anyone with half a brain would put up with this nonsense. As an American Jew, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that If I conduct myself honestly, ethically, morally, and respect others...no one has the right to tell me what to do or not do.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • MBW

      I was thinking the *exact* same thing when reading this article!

      July 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  14. natalie

    Hubbard once said, "The best way to make money is to create a religion."

    July 11, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  15. Johnson

    Tomjon will be forgiven by the church with a small "c". The small "c" is also used with cult. Katie has a lot of bedroom secrets – I would buy her book in a heartbeat.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • Peter

      I would too, if she could write! Maybe her daddy will write it for her

      July 11, 2012 at 6:55 am |
  16. Jt_flyer

    A church that courts "stars". how completely strange.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • barb2012

      How true. But where else could they get the money from those who are uneducated and needy; but very, very rich?

      July 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  17. saggyroy

    I didn't read past "...Commanding Officer of the Church's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood "

    July 11, 2012 at 6:18 am |
    • Steve_PA

      sure you didn't

      July 11, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  18. Edward C.

    I am curious. If you seek permisson to leave, and you are denied, what happens if you leave anyhow?

    July 11, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • Martin

      You spend all eternity being tortured. No wait, that's a different cult..

      July 11, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  19. works4me

    Yes... I just read this, but honestly who gives a rats ( ! )

    July 11, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  20. mb2010a

    He still looks pretty good for a 50 year old guy...

    July 11, 2012 at 6:08 am |
    • barb2012

      I think Tom looks every bit his 50 years. His face is tight. He is flabby and has a gut. The publicity photo for Rock looks great. Watch the rest of the movie and he is definitely aging. I also noticed it in MI 4. He would be better as a Super Comic Book Hero. That is the last MI I will watch, not just because of his age, but it was actually boring. Tom needs a lot of psychiatric help.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • finman1960

      Funny. A church without God even mentioned. I guess you worship yourself while you pay the church for telling you how great you are. Your false religion won't get you anywhere past your current pathetic life on earth.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:03 am |
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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.