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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. Lenny Pincus

    Folks, there is a big difference between criticism and intolerance. Practice whatever black art you want–almost all Americans are fine with that. But don't pretend there's a law that says religions cannot be criticized or ridiculed. Face it. Believers accept a lot of weird stuff besides a trust in the Almighty, and most of it is hilarious.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Answer

      They get touchy when it is their religion on the ropes.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • APersona

      Well put!

      July 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  2. watergirl

    ""...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."

    I have to really question any religion that retaliates like a school girl to the proclaims of an ex member. Maybe they will start writing ex members phone numbers on public bathroom walls.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Attack the attacker is their official doctrine.
      They are a spiteful, vengeful, litigous group.

      July 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  3. Jake-413451

    Ghosts of confused aliens residing on your skin following being blown up by atomic weapons in volcano's in Hawaii 75 million years ago. That is the source of your problems, those body thetans.
    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/OTIII/

    Thanks scientology, you actually came up with a more ridiculous theology than the other currently popular ones.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  4. saywhatyoumean@yahoo.com

    I have my own personal faith in Jesus Christ and his Father. I do not get involved with religion. I see religion as mankinds attempt to control other men. Most people seem to want someone to tell them what to believe and do and many men are more than happy to fill this role.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • ME II

      Isn't that special.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      and where did you derive yoru faith from? if you say the bible, you are nothing more than a hypocrite, since the bible was written by MEN.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Hooray

      Lolol!!! Word it how you want, you are following a religion. And spare me the cr@p about personal relationships with omnipotent gods, you're disillusioned. Nothing different about the sociopath killing a dozen people because god told him to do it, and you. Who attempts to control 'men'? God does, when he said do what I say or burn in hell.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      How can you believe in Jesus Christ and not believe in religion? They go intricately hand in hand. If you simply believe in the words of Jesus, that is one thing. But then you have to separate him from being the child of a god.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Most people seem to want someone to tell them what to believe and do and many men are more than happy to fill this role."

      And who told you of Jesus?

      July 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  5. some guy

    Could this be an Illuminati move to crush this Scientology church , or is Scientology really have some secret power (they say tom cruise can move objects ) . Could it be some huge thing going on or is it just a cult that hypnotizes its followers ?

    There should be a Federal Investigation into this.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  6. Trollman

    How can any non-believer attack religion when they think science has proven mankind exists by accident without any evidence?That its more possible life does not need a creator but offer NO proof to back it up?

    Right..even many non-believers believe in crazy things.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • sam

      Ok, your screen name gives us a fair indication of where you're coming from, so...

      July 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Trollman

      serious questions.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Huebert

      Seriously misguided.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • OOO

      If you mean evolution, it does not address the origins of life, just how life evolves over time.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      trollman
      There are volumes of evidence in everyscience lab andresearch facility in theworld.
      Just go to your nearest university library and ask for some help finding the material. It is there, BUT since this a way to find ACTUAL truth , and would shake the very foundations of your beliefs, you will not do this....simpler to say there is no evidence than to acually study it.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Good point. The fingerpaintings in dust, and removing a rib to create a chick make considerably more sense.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  7. some guy

    Could this be an Illuminati move to crush this Scientology church , or is Scientology really have some secret power (they say tom cruise can move objects ) . Could it be some huge thing going on or is it just a cult that hypnotizes its followers ?

    There should be a Federal Investigation into this.

    and no offence but ...why is it always white folks who are involved in all this out of normal life /secret society stuff ? Is it a genetic trait ?

    July 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I didn't realize Will Smith and Jada were white

      July 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Judy

    Weird thing...he has had three marriages to three non-christ scientists and all have ended in divorce when the women turn 33? or are near 33....does the number 33 have anything to do with the religion? dunno because I can find nothing that lets me learn about it before joining or going against it....strange religion me thinks! A mansion worth billions (or millions) sits empty awaiting the return of L Ron Hubbard...does anyone think that's a good idea?

    July 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  9. twiggy

    At least if you are a catholic or other religion you do not have to get permission from someone to leave the faith. You can just WALK away. Its your free choice. This scientology sounds like the Jehovah Witness clan.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • OOO

      yea... but catholics think you are going to hell, so in their minds they have the ultimate chain on you, via fear.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Not Really

      Twiggy actually the JW's are not much like the scientologists, although they ARE both cults. As a former JW myself who got out of that brainwashing years ago (Thank God!), you CAN just leave the JW's, although they really prefer to disfellowship you instead. You also don't have to worry about your personal safety after you leave, as the only threat they make to you is that you risk not being able to get into "the New World", whatever that is. JW's don't believe in anyone alive in today's time will go to heaven, and they certainly don't believe in hell, so I'm confused as to what exactly the JW's think will happen to any of their congregation if they mess up. I have close family members who are still JW's to this day, it breaks my heart but they have to make that decision for themselves. As far as scientology goes, from what I've read it just sounds plain creepy and indeed dangerous.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Not Really

      I should probably mention in regards to my post just now that the JW's ARE dangerous to belong to, since they are a cult, but they differ in their beliefs from the scientologists. I'd pray for anyone who belongs to either group.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  10. Sangha Mama

    You see this selfishness, and then you see a story like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ8oVbeav7Q&feature=related – where a woman living by very modest means – in deep poverty by US standards – gives gentle, loving and eternal care to her disabled 28-year-old daughter – a girl who somehow doesn't age and remains an infant forever. How can anyone abandon their child, especially one who so clearly needs their mama? Horrific.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  11. CJ

    Religion is a very sensitive topics to all. I am catholic and I don't judge on other religion. Some people can get very fanatics about their religion, does not mean they are crazy. They just have different beliefs and how they praise God. People should stop being judgemental about other religion.

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

    All religions are scams...licence and tax them all as businesses.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Judy

      agreed their all about the money....

      July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  13. Ligia

    Good for Katie: she looked so unhappy after she got married ! No more smiles and kisses in public. I am happy for her.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  14. zafrogzen

    Scientology is all about $$$ and power. I once met a "clear," probably the highest level - although they keep creating new ones to make more $$$. He was "clear" alright, but not in a good way. No humanity. Perfect Nazi. Brain washed totally clean. A real perversion of essential practices like Zen which require real effort and perseverance.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  15. Stephanie

    I don't think that ex-members are the best sources of information. As a Mormon, I am sensitive to religious discrimination and would encourage CNN to do a better job of remaining unbiased and upholding religious freedoms. I don't know why it's okay to make fun of Scientologists and Mormons, but not Jews or Catholics. What did Scientology ever do to you? It obviously is a great source of comfort to many people. I say let people worship how where and what they may. I would appreciate more honest coverage instead of all this mysterious, insinuating garbage.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Who says it is not OK to make fun of the catholics and the jews?

      July 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • sam

      "I am sensitive to religious discrimination" pretty much told us all we needed to know....

      July 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Ligia

      I know a woman who lost everything (house,car,savings) because of that "church". People need to know that they get all your money and all your time. And they don't care that you have nothing left : they ask always for more $$$ always.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • thumpz99

      What planet are you living on? Jews and Catholics have been scorned and ridiculed longer than Mormonism and Scientology combined and multiplied by 10! Your ignorance on this matter shows EXACTLY why your cult – along with the cult called Scientology – is ridiculed. Next you'll be telling us how the Nazi's didn't have gas chambers and killed off millions of Jews and Christians. (rolling eyes)

      July 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Stephanie,

      people here make fun of Catholics, Jews (and atheists) here all the time.

      Please don't feel singled out as a Mormon. There's plenty of equal opportunt-ty intolerance in these comment boards.

      Does that make it right? No,but be assured that it is not discriminatory to any one group.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • reco

      actually stephanie ex members are the BEST source of information how else are you going to learn what goes on inside these organizations? and it doesn't matter if it catholics or jews or what have you they ALL try to hide things..the only way you ever find out is due to ex members..

      July 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Leopold

      "I don't think that ex-members are the best sources of information." Of course you'd say that, ex-Mormons have revealed many of Mormonism's secrets, haven't they? Temple ceremonies, and all that nonsense. In that sense, you can relate to $cientologists.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      I try to ridicule all faiths equally, but Scientolgy and Mormonism get the lion's share because they are new. They do not have thousands of years of precendence, and are not interwoven into our societies like the stories of the flood, for example. It is a lot easier to point out how Joseph Smith was a crackpot and a con-artist than it is to debate what someone did or did not say three thousand years ago. The hypocrisy of the Mormon church can be seen over the past 30 years with the sudden revelation that Black people should be allowed to attain higher positions in the church as of ... 1978? Odd that it coincides with BYU getting more recruits for their basketball team. Mormonisn is also made to look hypocritical in the fact that owning shares of Coca-Cola is contradictory to the belief that caffeine is bad for you. One shouldn't profit off of "poison". That magic underwear is a good point to make fun of, and the polygamy part is frowned upon in 49 states. Basically, we make fun of you more because there is more to make fun of. It has all the good parts of the One God, plus some additonal ridiculousness that we get for a bonus round. Cheers.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • asdf

      Since when have the jews not been made fun of/persecuted?

      July 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • pete

      did i miss something? where does this article make fun of scientology?

      July 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      dont worry steph...i dont discriminate...i treat all the same. Fairy Tales.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • LinSea

      @reco and @leopold, there are a lot of ex-members who have left the LDS church and flat-out lie about the church . The same thing probably happens to other churches when someone gets mad at the church and leave. I see the former church members on boards like this one all the time, posting the nastiest garbage they can and completely lie about church doctrines or practices, either to deliberately try to cause hurt or because they never understood the doctrine in the first place and they are parading their ignorance.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  16. A Frayed Knot

    If Scientology had any brains (they don't) they wouldn't let Tom Cruise be a spokesman for them. He is an entertaining actor, but when playing himself, his voice patterns, mannerisms and presentation scream, "DUMB".

    On second thought, keep him out there... it'll sink you.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  17. GENIE

    If you want to get rich, invent a religion....L.Ron.Hubbard

    July 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Jayneau

      Yep. Hubbard said that many times, in many different iterations. But the idiots fell for this "religion" anyway. Cha-Ching!

      July 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  18. Trevor

    Scientology is no more insane than any other religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Religion

      Are you saying that believing in invisible men in the sky who tell you how to live your life is insane?

      July 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • abqTim

      except that when you leave other religions you are not worried about retaliation.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • achepotler

      virginbirth*cough*rosefromthedead*cough*

      July 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • thumpz99

      There is historical proof that Jesus existed. There is no such evidence for Xenu, his Galactic Confederacy, or Thetans. With so many MILLIONS of these you'd think they could at least produce 1 to show to the world how wrong we are for NOT believing in their cult.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • abqTim

      I bet if all these atheist thought real hard and realistically about it... if they found themselves in an ER where they were in critical condition and could die, they would rather have a christian doctor instead of an atheist doctor who would just say "well science did what it could, no sense wasting time, sorry, next patient.."

      July 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • watergirl

      @AbqTom,

      LOL, I have been to the ER plenty of times, and have nearly lost my life in others. The religion of my doctor doesn't matter. How much he knows, does.

      But you keep hanging on to whatever tidbit makes you feel better.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      I bet if all these christians thought real hard and realistically about it... if they found themselves in an ER where they were in critical condition and could die, they would rather have an atheist doctor instead of a christian doctor who would just pray, then say "well this is just god's will, no sense wasting time, sorry, next patient.."

      July 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • John 9

      @ thumpz99
      there is no proof Jesus existed, he is only spoken of in the Bible. No other writings from his supposed life time mention him. He was created just like all the others, by someone with an idea, Like Lron.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • thumpz99

      @John 9

      Many may not believe that Jesus was the actual son of God but there is more proof that he existed from NON Christian sources. You obviously don't know of:

      The Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-100)
      Pliny the Younger, imperial Roman Legate of Bythynia – in a letter to Emperor Trajan in A.D. 112
      Tacitus – the important Roman historian
      Suetonius – a Roman historian who compiled a biography of the first twelve Roman emperors in his "Life of Claudius"
      Thallus and Julius Africanus in A.D. 52
      Mara bar Serpion

      All of these sources are by non Christian sources.

      I am not arguing that he is the messiah here – only that he DID exist as a person.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "There is historical proof that Jesus existed."

      ok so when will you provide said proof?

      July 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """There is historical proof that Jesus existed."""

      No, there isn't. There is no physical or historical evidence whatsoever.

      There is ONE possible reference to him in a non-religious text but even that one is being contentiously debated. So don't get your hopes up.

      July 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """I bet if all these atheist thought real hard and realistically about it... if they found themselves in an ER where they were in critical condition and could die, they would rather have a christian doctor instead of an atheist doctor who would just say "well science did what it could, no sense wasting time, sorry, next patient..""""

      I'll take your bet. How much you got?

      No way would I want a Christian doctor who thinks my possible death on the operating table would be "God's Will".

      No thanks.

      July 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • abqTim

      @whateverGirl: check this out and tell me a Doctors religion doesn't matter...
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1490160/table/tbl1/
      If the doc hovering over you doing surgery is praying then I would think you should care about that. Unless you prefer not to get treated. Funny how the people most connected with life and death are SOMETIMES the most religious.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  19. Big D

    Cult in every sense of the word. Good bunch to stay away from.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Closet Atheist

      Funny... i say the same about christians....

      July 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  20. Dr. Pat

    I saw Cruise at the airport once and I was shocked. Hollywood uses some kind of camera trick to make him look like a normal-sized person. In reality, he is just a tad over 3 feet tall. Seriously, he could be the president of the Lollipop Guild.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • JOE

      When he and Niclole Kidman split, I remember her sarcastic remark "Well now I can wear heels again". If you notice he's always eyeball to eyeball with every female co-star, which means he's either on a stool or she's in a hole.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      it is more common than you think.
      Billie Idol is very tiny, but in his videos, they always got the tiniest dancers they could find to make him appear normal.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • thumpz99

      Height has nothing to do with talent.

      Lucky for us TC has neither...

      July 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Jayneau

      Good one. LOL!

      July 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
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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.