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. 40 Year Scientology member

    Lets get some truth out. what i see by all these posts are a lot of misinformed individuals. Hubbard made observations about the mind and the human spirit much like Sir Issac Newton who OBSERVED Graviity and wrote about his DISCOVERIES like Einstien, And many others Hubbard observed, discovered and published those findings then trade marked them. Psychiatry and Psychology were invented as devices for war to control people. Their final results turn people into mind numb zombies with their use of psychotropic drugs like welbutrin, Prozac and many others as well as there not talked about ELECTRIC SHOCK TREATMENT. Yeah that will help you!!!! I guess the only crime Hubbard commited was to help free people from that with his trade marked Dianetics and Scientology. What a crime !!!

    July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • ME II

      Einstien and Newton's observation are verifiable and testable. Hubbard's are made up.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Which God??

      So sorry that you believe your own BS. LRH was a pathological LIAR. He did not have all those medals, he was relieved of command and lost the chance for promotion, was NOT a nuclear 'fizzieist,' and had very little writng skills. He may have had oratorical skill, to some measure, but this man was in it solely for the power and the dollars. Why don't you tell folks that even his wife Mary spent time in prison for fraud, etc? You can't think for yourself anymore, you HAVE to spout the stuff you have taken in as you have nothing else, just like all the other cults, you cannot THINK for yourself. It scares you to do so. You NEED the group mind to feel safe and secure, don't you? You are all BS. Spout it to the wind.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Scientologist "Doctors" have made some very poor decisions in dealing with those who are legitmately mentally ill.
      There have been instances when they've taken their patiens off of their meds (be it for schizophrenia or epilepsy) which resulted in death.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • ben

      I wonder why these tools didnt work for Tom? I guess because you can think your way out of selfishness if you are at total liberty to do so.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  2. Ryan

    "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."

    -This gave me a much needed laugh. I bet it's easier to get a loan with low interest rates while having a poor creidt score.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  3. CLEpost

    Can you say cult?

    July 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  4. james hotz

    All these churches are full of crapp. They brain wash you , I like the Prebyterian church the best. and good old Tom is probably full of crapp too.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Barry G.

    We who are Christians see Scientology for what it is–a demonic cult, established by a false prophet.

    We also know that there is nothing new under the sun, and we know that this is just another form of idolatry.

    We are confident that God will punish such wickedness.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • OOO

      "We who are Christians see Scientology for what it is–a demonic cult, established by a false prophet."
      We who are atheists see all of your religions as cults"

      "We also know that there is nothing new under the sun, and we know that this is just another form of idolatry."
      Hmm Why is idolotry any worse than worshiping 3 gods?

      "We are confident that God will punish such wickedness."
      We atheists are confident you are wasting your time hoping there is a god to dish out your form of retribution on people who do not think like you.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Anne

      Are you being sarcastic?

      July 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Richelle

      OOO, I love your comment and it's so true.
      Christian's are the first to judge and ignore the passage of he who judges will be judged!.

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

      Scientologists are very strange but you Christians also terrify me with your absolute view of the world. I think you Christians are much more powerful and are much more dangerous to the world than the handful of Scientologists out there.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Darren

      Hey Barry, Christians worship a "God" that cannot be seen. Your "God" is nothing more than any other so-called false prophet as there have been many of them from around the world for all of mankind's time on this planet. The Christian Church has controlled, killed and generally messed-up the lives of millions of people by planting unfounded fears into the minds of children and adults alike. I especially love your last line where the all loving "God" you worship will punish someone who has a different thought than your belief system. All religion is the same. Mind control. Oh, and money and power.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Barry G. (since you double posted your comment on the other Cruise article, I will do the same)

      "We who are Christians see Scientology for what it is, a demonic cult.

      – We who are realists see it as a cult, with no basis in fact. There is no evidence for demons – anywhere.

      "We also know that there is nothing new under the sun, and we know that this is just another form of idolatry."

      –We realists know that there is much that we don't know. Agree on the idolatry – and that goes for all religions.

      "We are confident that God will punish such wickedness, eternally."

      – We realists see not a shred of verified evidence for any such thing.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Which God??

      Sorry, bub, but your mythical sky-poppy is a fake as well. You NEED to believe because you are afraid to think for yourself. If you say you do think, in a logical manner, and still believe in your sky-daddy, you need some help. If you are afraid to say that we don't know all the answers, and want to put it down to a mythical creator, then 'pray' to your god to show you the way to perfect health and prosperity. Has it worked for you yet?

      July 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """We who are Christians see Scientology for what it is–a demonic cult, established by a false prophet."""

      The false religious beliefs of others is so obvious to you Barry, but you fail to see the absurdity of your own chosen mythology. Why is that? It fascinates me that none of you see how naive this appears.

      July 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  6. AllYourBase

    The secrecy...the extremely difficult methods required to get out of it...the brainwashed nonsense its followers spew...strange testing of its followers...tell me how Scientology is not a cult? I am so glad Anonymous hacked these weirdos and exposed their freak-show teachings to all. If you want to learn about their strange beliefs just google Anonymous and scientology. Way to go Anons!

    July 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Or look up any Catholic rituals if you want some more weird cult stuff.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  7. jaw4

    “Scientology appeals to men and women in all walks of life, as do other major religions.

    1- major? Uh- no. Members are arrogant and ignorant to think it is anywhere near the level of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Bhuddism, etc. Having a few actor and celebrity members in no may makes you major.
    2- religion? Uh- no. A cult organization created by a failed science fiction writer with delusions of grandeur and a psychotic desire for celebrity status.

    I'm aware that many consider any religion a cult and some use the terms "cult" and religion interchangeably. But there is one big difference- the ability to leave of one's own accord without fear of retribution. In that way, Scientology is more like The People's Temple and the FDLS- 2 classic examples of cults.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  8. 0704American

    Are there any black members in the church of scientology?

    July 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • ME II

      Don't see why not. Their money is just as green as anyone else's.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • yes there is

      Will and Jada Smith

      July 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  9. NYKnows

    So this "church" drew up a plan regarding rich celebs that it wanted? Sounds like a marketing plan to make $$$ rather than a religion. And you have to "get permission" to leave? Sounds like a prison rather than a religion. And the former official now speaking out fears for her safety, just for telling her truth? Sounds like a criminal organization rather than a religion. "Scientology" was founded to make money, it has a marketing plan, it imprisons people, and it threatens people – It's not a church, it sounds more like a really dangerous street gang, or a bunch of gangsters. Why would anybody in their right mind want to be affiliated with this? Boggles the mind.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • jaw4


      July 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Wow, sounds like it is well on its way to becoming the next Catholic church. The parallels to its history are staggering!

      July 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  10. Permission to quit?

    Permission to quit says it all. Sounds like a mob or gang- dumb.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  11. dave

    "But in order to get permission you have to go through an intensive security check, interrogation procedure before you can be approved to leave." ..............that pretty much screams cult to me.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  12. edsr of Dallas

    I want all of his money and temporary use of her body.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Hot Carl

      By "temporary" I assume you mean about 8 seconds?

      July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • no god

      If she can stay on that long...

      July 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  13. Knowingness

    This is in the "faith" section but as Tom Cruise showed us in his famous crazy video, he "knows." Scientology claims to be scientific and that it works 100% of the time. L. Ron Hubbard wrote the book on how to have a successful marriage, so as far as I'm concerned Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes still have a very successful, happy, science-based marriage,

    The divorce was just an "implant."

    Scientology should be in the "crime" section. They operate like a high-pressure sales mafia. You don't need any faith to see that at all, just the facts.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  14. Eddie O.

    Whole thing sounds like something off the Sci-Fy channel

    July 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  15. Sam

    Toms NEXT Blockbuster Movie!

    “Busted Marriages and the Church of Scientology!”

    Of course, Tom plays himself…

    July 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Which God??

      You mean plays with himself, right?

      July 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  16. Hot Carl

    Harmful indeed. Now we'll all find out what a sham this "religeon" really is! The only thing Tom Cruise and John Travolta worship is the ivory pole, the pork sword, the one-eyed trouser trout, the meat pipe.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Which God??

      Yes, HC, they should be careful not to get caught letting their 'meat-loaf' or their 'pork-roll.'

      July 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  17. ali

    so the cult takes a publicity hit. whoop-de-doo.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      They had such a sterling reputation until now........hahaha

      July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  18. Oneforall777

    Please don't confuse this group of people with the Christian Church. How on earth do these people get non-profit status as a Church? I have not heard one expression of God or his Bible in all that I have read of Scientology. It seems to be a very 'me' and 'I' orientated organisation, nothing to do with God and the Bible whatsoever.

    We are all warned of these types of cults and false teachers in Bible prophesy in the 'last days'. It's certainly coming true. Satan loves to confuse people and tell big fat lies, to twist the truth, to bring into being counterfeit churches, so that the average man & woman, will curse the Christian faith and instead follow Satan, don't be fooled please.

    Folks, this is not a Christian Church, or any Church for that matter. Scientology gives itself credit for it's seeming good works, no thanks is given to God. They are obviously hypocrites of the first order, how sad. May God forgive them. Tom, you've been had! Take hold of yourself and come back to God and Christ.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You are shocked by this, that this religion isn't a christian one. That is like walking into a budhist temple and being surprised the don't have their noses in "scripture"

      And please come back to your god...yes please subst i tute one set of delusions for another....try breaking fre of the crutch that is religion, then you will know true freedom.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Kelly Long

      After everything I have read on Scientology. It sounds more like a cult, than a church. If you have to gain permission to leave the church, and then remain afraid to speak about what goes on behind the doors of this organization, then to me it's just a way to brain wash people and have control over a persons freewill. I personally think that it's a dangerous situation for anyone to be in.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Wow, this is a great example of how clueless the right wing-nuts really are. This person honestly seems to believe that the only religion protected by the 1st amendment is Christianity. Narrow-minded does not even come close to describing the atti.tudes presented in the above post.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Kelley, it is only a matter of degree. The Catholic church is only slightly better because it is less blatant. However, most variations of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all about restricting the freewill of the adherents and absolute belief in the doctrines and dogma of the religion.

      Cult just means a religion that is smaller or newer and not like your own.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • ME II

      They never claimed to be a Christian church/religion. News flash, not everyone in the world is, or even wants to be, Christian.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Howie

      All religions are properly called cults. No one imaginary sky fairy is any more meaningful than another. No religion should be protected from taxation or prosecution.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  19. Scott Pilgrim

    Now, I'm pretty accepting of whatever anyone believes.I only really get worked up when people try to push their views on others (that goes to both the Atheists and the Christians on here). But what really weirds me out about Scientology is how secretive everyone is about it.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • ???

      I can't figure out where all of these people are who push their beliefs on other people that everyone on here talks about. I have had discussions with people about their faith (or mine) and I see people on here voice their opinions, but I have never been held down and forced to listen to anyone – ever. Even when Jehovah Witnesses come to my door they are extremely polite and kind. When I advise them that I do not wish to speak with them about my religious views they thank me, tell me to have a wonderful day, and leave.

      Maybe other people just hang out with jerks.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      @??? There is a process called "being under conviction of sin" When a person is under conviction, it's as if a state of spiritual paranoia exists. Everything around such a person and any conversation about spiritual matters confronts the person with their sinful nature. Many people respond to this as if others are "forcing their religion on me" or "trying to control me and take away my freedom". What is actually occurring is they are being convicted by their own conscience. Some eventually recognize their need for repentance, others polarize and become further antagonistic towards spiritual matters.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  20. HeavenSent

    I will make sure Jesus's truth is kept

    Matthew 5:30 And if thy penis offends thee, cut it off, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy member should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell..

    July 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      How many abuse reports does it take to get someone restricted anyway?

      July 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Which God??

      Ah HeavenSpooge, you're at it again, being carnal. What is it with you and penises? Lack of getting some? Carnal, oops.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bugmenot

      Unless you repent of your vulgarity there's gonna be another full seat on the ride to perdition.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
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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.