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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. ZT

    "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."

    Funny, though, because I can name a lot more actors who are Scientology than I can name scientists, engineers, or industry leaders.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  2. Paul

    How Isaac Asimov regretted making that bet with L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was a lousy writer, but a good BS artist. I guess that is why he was successful in creating his cult.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  3. CAC

    One can not just quit – why not? Did you make them your legal conservator or guardian?

    July 18, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • maria

      Exactly what I was wondering.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  4. Personnel throughout places of work tend to be learned whining regarding the furnitures getting trouble for their perform. Such approach, as well as vital which a place of work have got furnitures that will comfort and ease the workers

    Valuable info. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident, and I am shocked why this twist of fate did not came about in advance! I bookmarked it.

    July 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  5. glenda

    Tom gave up his family for this cult. Stupid and more Stupid!

    July 17, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  6. don

    You have to get permission, it sounds like a gang.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • whoop

      no. a cult.

      July 16, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • whoop

      or a gang. or a money making pyramid scheme praying on the naive, disillusioned, narcissistic, and mentally infirm. the head of Scientology is a VERY rich man. far wealthier than any gangster or even fraudulent televangelists.

      July 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  7. Rosalie Atkinson

    When he was inducted into the Port Orchard Yacht Club in Washington Stste it was as Lafyette R. Hubbard.

    You're welcome,

    Rosalie Atkinson

    July 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  8. Big Bushy Mustache

    Send Holmes back up the creek where she belongs.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Big Bushy Mustache

    The whole church thing is to cover up the fact that Tom Cruize is gay. They don't call him the "Hollywood Hoover" for nothing.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  10. cursos esteticien

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    July 13, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    July 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs:!

      July 13, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Hussein "born here" BamBam

      neither are pedophile priests ministers and s&m nuns!

      August 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  12. estudiar estetica

    You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I believe I'd by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely large for me. I am having a look forward for your subsequent submit, I'll try to get the grasp of it!

    July 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  13. katie holmes

    I wonder if tom cruise reads this and realizes that the church initially wanted him because he is famous and if he isn't arrogant enough to think that it is only because he is famous and not because he is somehow sooo fantastic that they couldn't get by without him.

    July 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  14. what a joke

    Scientology is not a religion. It's a hoax. It's a way for weak-minded people who don't believe in God to feel better about themselves. They hide behind the their cloak of religion as not to look bad by others. Created by a science fiction writer and people follow it , calling it a religion?? People who go to a therapist don't call it religion. What a scam......

    July 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • bob

      the REAL funny thing is your 'god' is just as much as a hoax. an imaginary sky father made up to control the masses. it's sad. you think they are foolish for buying into a religion made up by a science fiction writer, despite believing in an imaginary, invisible sky father yourself..

      July 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • bob

      At least its science fiction, the bible is only fiction

      July 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • asdfasdfasdf

      All religion's are man made hoax's. That's not to say that no greater being exists, maybe they do, maybe they don't. Nothing wrong with following a particular religion, most people probably do it to be part of a community.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Dee

      I have been a part of many religions in my life and i have realized through faith in GOD and experience, not religion, that GOD, THE BIBLE and learning every aspect of Jesus Christ is the way to not only live a life of pure joy and peace on earth but also be confident in death. GOD is not meant to be a crutch like many religions portray but your best friend, Father, Lord, Savior, Creator of this Beautiful Universe that we enjoy daily. Such as the beauty of nature, the power of a raging storm or waterfall, the variety and different colors of every specie. GOD CREATED US FOR COMPANIONSHIP AND DESIRES A RELATIONSHIP WITH EVERY ONE OF US!!! GODS LOVE IS WHAT MOTIVATES US TO WANT TO AND THEN BECOME A BETTER SPOUSE, PARENT, FRIEND, ETC. One of the reasons why people don't want to believe in GOD is that it requires GREAT HUMILITY to admit that there is a hole in your heart that has not been able to be filled by anything in this life enough to sustain you and me. It is a hole that only GOD can fill. To admit that takes humility! Humility is more powerful than pride! IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR ANY ANSWERS ABOUT LIFE, THEY ARE ALL IN THE BIBLE. THE ORIGINAL BIBLE THAT WAS WRITTEN THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO. NO CHURCH VERSION OF THE BIBLE, JUST THE ORIGINAL BIBLE WITH NO ADD ONS FROM ANY CHURCH. GODS DESIRE IS FOR EVERYONE TO COME TO A KNOWLEDGE OF HIM.

      July 13, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Thinker

      Dee, The 'original bible' was created by the RCC after a group of chrurch fathers got together to determine which of the hundred + 'gospels' were worthy of inclusion. Anyone who still used books from outside their list of approved inclusions was labled a heretic and persecuted.

      July 16, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  15. Galady

    I know a place you can find out all those things scientology is claiming to tell you(how to run your marriage), how to cope with death, how to manage life.....ITS CALLED THE BIBLE!!!

    July 12, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • sam stone

      And replace one silly belief with another?

      July 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Leo

      We all have beliefs Sam. You happen to look at the world, the incredible complexity of life and BELIEVE that it simply happened by chance. All that DNA code just happened to fall into order all on its own. You must have had your alphabet soup talk to you as a child, or maybe some of your puzzles came out of the box already completed for you.

      The truth is believing that all this happened without a creator takes as much faith as believing in a creator.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • sam stone

      Gee, Leo, thank you for telling me what I believe. All this time I thought differently, but you apparently know my thoughts better than I do. Thank you, thank you for your omniscience.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • tiny bubbles

      @Leo,
      If you don't know, why do you have to believe anything? Why don't you behave like a scientist and try to find out, or at least follow the science that is currently going on in that area.
      They keep learning more and more all the time.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      While we are at it, Leo, tell me how you make the logical leap from a creator to a god.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • jwt

      No thanks I will stick with the real world

      July 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • just sayin

      Leo

      We all have beliefs Sam. You happen to look at the world, the incredible complexity of life and BELIEVE that it simply happened by chance. All that DNA code just happened to fall into order all on its own. You must have had your alphabet soup talk to you as a child, or maybe some of your puzzles came out of the box already completed for you.

      The truth is believing that all this happened without a creator takes as much faith as believing in a creator.

      >
      Our creators could have been aliens or other humans. Big picture..it doesn't matter. Why be afraid? Why trust man on the questions after death? How about we leave that to the gods to advise and not man?

      July 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • asdfasdfasdf

      I'm glad that you like your particular religion that you choose to follow, however your is just one of many. Eventually i'm planning on starting one too, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • jkflipflop

      Being as scientists can literally create RNA chains out of chemical soup, it's not a stretch to think the same thing happened in a primordial Earth. Yes, science can explain the origin of life. No GOD needed.

      July 16, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Hussein "born here" BamBam

      written by my muslim brothers in turkey 300ad who decided to rewrite the jewish old testament – the original – not a rewrite you fool!

      August 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Fuster

    Scientology is just another stupid religion, just like Christianity and Islam.

    July 12, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Poor poor Fuster; So damn full of bluster

      July 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Hussein "born here" BamBam

      amen my brudder

      August 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  17. augustghost

    Who cares what "TC" does? I'm glad for Katie and her daughter that they got away from Mr self absorbed control freak and the church of cult nazi's

    July 12, 2012 at 5:31 am |
  18. Pankaj Gupta

    Are people idiots...!? specially the media people...!? Did Tom Cruise lose his marriage, or did Katie Holmes lose her marriage...!? Who was the loser...!? Both...!? The media certainly thinks that Tom lost, and Katie won... not sure why...!?

    July 12, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Because in our culture women are innocent victims and men are evil. So women get the kids, the money, the sympathy and the new boyfriend. Men get the apartment, the alimony and child support payments and the blame.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  19. Shaheen

    DANGEROUS MURDERING LYING THIEVING CULT.

    July 12, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Who invited me?

      murdering?...you have evidence?

      July 12, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • bob

      When you lie, you murder part of the world

      July 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  20. JLS1950

    "Our Lady of Perpetual Bunko and Rationalized Sociopathy"

    July 12, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • JLS1950

      Was true in 1953 and in 1963 and is still true today.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:28 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.