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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. Tim W.

    All religions and religion want-a-be's are cults !

    July 12, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  2. Name*Stevo

    I have researched the so called "Church" of Scientology for awhile and there is one major common thing people that left have said and that is that the people in charge are basically insane. From total control of children and pregnancy to severe abuses of people being majorlly mistreated and forced to work. The govt and justice depts NEED to do a major and thorough investigation into the "church" and its practises. There are to many abuses that people have reported not to. I guarantee that once investigated the "church" will be shut down and criminal charges will be laid upon many of the hierarchy. I will also say for the one "Victory" – Katie Holmes leaving, there are many, many failures and families destroyed by this ilegal CULT. Congrats to you Katie and Suri, shame to you " TC".

    July 12, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  3. Emitr

    That people have to get "permission" to leave this church is all anyone needs to know about it. If you've ever been under the control of a religion or cult and broken free of it, you know what I mean. Good riddance!

    July 12, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • China

      Whenever I hear of Tom all I can think of is his nasty tighty whities ball sack dance

      July 12, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  4. Simon Temple

    What is Church Scientology?

    In 1952 the Church of Scientology was established with the help of CIA agent , Miles Copland Jr. which he mentioned in his book, The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA’s Original Political Operative”, London: Aurum Press, 1989.
    The main objective was to be a front group of CIA in western world.

    Who was L Ron Hubbard?
    L Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer who joined Office of Naval Intelligence in 1940's , it is duly acknowledged by the Church in Feb 2011 issue of Lawrence Wright article in New Yorker magazine.

    Who controls Church of Scientology ?

    Church of Scientology is a subsidiary of Church of Spiritual Technology (Google it) which is in turn a subsidiary of Author Services Incorporated (also known as LRH library)
    Author Services Incorporated is commercial organization- means, its objective is to make and ditribute profit for its owners.

    In short a religious organization (Church of Scientology) is a subsidiary of another religious organization (Church of Spiritual Technology) which is a subsidiary of a commercial organization (Author Services Incorporated) - strange !.

    Who is David Miscavige ?

    David Miscavige is the Chairman of Board of RTC (as division of Church of Scientology),he is just a front man.

    Who is the head of Church of Spiritual Technology ?
    Confidential- Secret

    Who is running the Author Service Incorporated ?
    Most Confidential- Top Secret

    Is it illuminate ?
    or
    Secret agencies?
    or
    may be Xenu ?

    July 12, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • greegor

      and....what is your point? we would like to know.

      July 12, 2012 at 1:57 am |
  5. Twitter: @Tayler_Scott

    Well, of course you're going to get a lot of Hollywood people in such an organization! It takes brain dead people to be in a cult (Unless they were there since childhood, and that's a whole new prospective which I won't get into) and not realize they are being fed a bunch of made up garbage, geez, it wouldn't be hard for Tom Cruise to get new 'followers', all it takes is people like Kim Kardashian!

    Not bashing any religions, believe what you want - but that's just my opinion on the matter.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  6. Jeff

    Tom is a freak!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  7. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:-------------

    And the con games continue. E-meters? Were they delivered by angels? They were not? How shocking!!!

    Some other religion cons and some victims of said cons:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

    "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(i.e. Christians)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Gary

      Wordy, but wrong....

      July 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Ronald Raygun

      religion is a tool for the weak to be controlled by the few, to help establish order among the masses

      July 12, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Reality

      For the reading-challenged- a PowerPoint slide:

      SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:
      THERE NEVER WERE AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR LIKE 9/11.

      SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:
      THERE WERE NEVER ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS AND THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY.

      SAVING 15.5 MILLION FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:
      ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

      Added details upon request.

      July 12, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  8. Gary

    Tom who? Oh yea, the “I’m an actor / pretend to be guy”. Enough said.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  9. I love cults

    Scientology is NOT a religion. It's just pretending to be one.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  10. Bob

    Scientology is a scam. The only religion that is more ridiculous is Mormanism. You have to seriously question the motives and judgement of anyone belonging to either of these cults.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • peterblood71

      I disagree. Scientology is by far the more grievous and ridiculous cult. I am not a Mormon but know Mormons who are really nice people, essentially Christians and normal folk. I was hired as an outside specialist by Scientology briefly and spent some time at Sea Org and can verify they are nutty as fruitcakes.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Of course they welcome the celebrities. Isn't that where the money is, outside of politics that is? I wonder how the low commoner like us are treated? No special entrances for them I'll bet.
      Anyone know how much the higher ups in this so called "church" are getting for salaries? Would like to see their place of residence for a starter.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Tim

      I know nothing of scientology. But I do know I lived 35 plus years in the catholic faith – with little or nothing to show for it. 5 plus years now as a Mormon and my life is better, friends are better quality, I focus on taking care of my family, and know that I likely would not be married today if it weren't for the LDS faith. Spend time with Mormons, go to a few weeks of church, see if it is a cult. I surround myself with highly educated people...

      July 12, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • gwtars

      Tim, with all due respect, how can a religion that was started by a man that said he was given special spiritual knowledge by space aliens in the woods of Pennsylvania any less credible than Scientology?

      July 12, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  11. Dale

    All these stories about scientologists kidnapping people and killing people is to me sort of out there..actually I have never heard of any major or high profile police reports against this "religion" or actually organization. Has anyone else for that matter? I don't think scientology is any worse than alot of organizations out there. I think alot of religious folk dont like it because its not the Bible....but I think alot of people who make these comments just do it because they hate Tom Cruise and think he is evil...I really think people need to take a reality check here....think about why you really dont like Scientology? I have never heard anything that bad about it.....it really makes me wonder...

    July 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Dale

      Well to finish...it makes me wonder if there are alot of other religious nuts out there who think this is atheism....but I dont think scientologists really consider them religious...i think they do it for tax breaks....which I for one think is sort of smart!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • dan

      you have to look up the BBC special on scientology. the people actually stalk the reporter. SCIENTOLOGY IS EVIL. PURE EVIL. WATCH IT

      July 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • JK

      You will have more credibility when you learn that “alot” is not a word. It’s correctly written as two separate words: “a lot.”

      July 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • I love cults

      I totallly agree. Scientology just wants to avoid paying taxes and be as profitable as any conglomerate.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  12. chen

    What an idiot jumping on that couch. Now the divorce? If he was my friend he would never live this down..lol!!

    July 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Chen....he did look like a fool jumping up and down on that couch. Wondering what he was smoking before he went on the air. But, on the other hand, I wish I had that much angility!

      July 11, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  13. Nan

    Robert, I'm going to be honest; You haven't provided anything in your discussions that will change the negative perception about Scientology, as much as you tried. There really isn't a way to defend it. I'm logging off now. Good Night.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  14. Bookenz

    You and your "church" just got dumped BIG time Cruise. That's gotta sting.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  15. Bayousara

    Nothing at all said about any aspect of a religion other than the words "spiritual awareness." Whatever it is they believe, it is not what I would call "religious."

    July 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • from beyond the arc

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

      Scientology is in no way a major religion. It's a well-organized cult or, at best, a very minor religion. A zit on the planet.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • svann

      You seem to think you know "what they believe" based on what little was said in this article. I hope you could see that that is an unfounded extrapolation.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  16. Jerry Barnow

    Scientology no more a religious cult than Islam. Major difference is, Scientologists don't worship death, nor do they trample on women and non Islamists.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Jon Pope

      That's pretty funny because all Christians think about is dying and going to heaven.... News flash: all organized religions are cults in one way or another.... They all tell you to do it their way or else your not going to whatever afterlife they offer.....

      July 11, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  17. PAUL

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lThuhz45pDI

    July 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  18. McIver3

    Scientologists don't believe in God. They believe that an alien dropped off some enemy aliens in Earth volcanos, and when they died, their souls went and inhabited cave men, progressing them to modern man. Sounds like something a Hollywood scriptwriter wrote!

    They take young teens (12 yrs old) and put them in dorms and work them in the "Sea Organization", cleaning and doing maintenance projects. They are not allowed Internet, TV, or outside information. They are not allowed to go to the doctor without an escort (bodyguard).

    The COS should stand for Cult of Scientology.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Mclver.. So the god you believe in is not an alien? lives apparently outside of time and space.. monitors each of his "creations" gave us free will but knows the path we will take and looks forward to eternal torture., scared to talk directly to his creations, made us perfect but it looks very much like evolution with the flaws inherent in that process.... yep.. I agree Scientologists are crazy.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  19. Eliza Wood

    Hmmmm.... Scientology and the Anatomy of a Cult: http://progressplanet.com/eliza-wood/scientology-what-is-a-cult/ So creepy!

    July 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  20. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Very funny video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME

    July 11, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Diamond Dave

      Dead ON!

      July 12, 2012 at 1:49 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.