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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. John

    First of all, any religious organization with an organizational chart that includes a "commanding officer" already fails the smell test and frankly, it doesn't matter what religious platform it is because they all seek control over your mind and your money. God has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Mr. Cruise keeps winding up in divorce court because he's a nut case. The women in his life continue to grow tired of being oppressed and emotionally battered. Good women expect a man to stand tall in his shoes and think independently, not languish in morose views of life and strive to point out everything that's wrong with the world based upon the philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard, the quintessential nut case of them all.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  2. jt_flyer

    the guy is a little unusable maybe but he's made some really big movies I've enjoyed watching.

    Who knows if he's strange because he's a Scientologist or if he's a Scientologist because he's strange.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  3. Tron

    Gee. Kirstie Alley credits this religion help her overcome her drug addiction. It amazing, if not astonishing, that scientology could not help Ms Alley overcome "her food addiction". I guess the writer(s) of this story felt that was not relevant ? LMAO

    July 11, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Katie

      Alley's problem with food is most likely a "private matter." I'd like to know why anyone need the church's permission to leave. Isn't it founded on the principle of knowing what is right and true for you? Sounds like the church gets to decide what's right and true for you no matter what really is right and true for you.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  4. ATPMSD

    Religion = Brainwashing. Enough said!

    July 11, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  5. Hear Ye

    Like every 'religion', scientology, including tommy criuise and his delusional consorts are just plain whacked.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  6. jules

    I agree it's time we started taxing churches, as well as the salaries of those employed by the church. ALL churches. ALL denominations. The original intent of not taxing religious organizations was to keep the church out of the state/government's business. These days the 'church' is the largest contributing organization in the country. Not to mention the so called Christian right thinks they somehow have been endowed with the right to run this country as they see fit. First of all they clearly do not understand what being "Christian" means. Since Christ (the root of Christianity) would have nothing to do with the government, they can't be behaving as Christ would. Therefore they are not being genuine Christians. Second, why should Christians be more empowered than other religions?
    I say tax them all. The same way the middle class is taxed.
    As for Scientology, I don't even know what they really stand for. However it Cruise and Travolta are prime examples of their teachings then they are in really bad shape. TC is NUTS, and Travolta is...well I think we're all slowly learning that Travolta has quite a few skeletons in his "closet". I'd think the church would be anxious to ex-communicate these two.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Diddlysquat

      I really welcome religion into the political process – if they choose to take part, then they should pay taxes. That's fair. There are people who DO NOT take part in the political process and have to pay taxes anyway.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  7. Billy

    Tom gave up a wonderful family for scientology ? What a moron!
    Proves once again all kinds of religion are simply brainwashing of it subjects.
    Give me money give me money is what they are really after. Ha ha Morons....

    July 11, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  8. ArtisticFreedom

    I find it odd that so many ex-Scientologists have said that "you can't just walk out of it." Why not? What will happen? I wonder if they're just so brainwashed or if there are real consequences to just walking away. I mean, it seems crazy to me to ask permission to leave anything that you don't want to be in - especially a religion! Whether intentional or not, this definitely comes off as sinister.

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

      Sinister indeed. What exactly would the "church" do it you simply walk away? Hunt you down? Kidnap you? Have you "taken out"?
      I believe the church told TC, let her go. As long as she keeps her mouth shut. Katie agreed to stay mum on her knowledge of what goes on within the confines of the church. Now if she can just keep TC and the church from stealing her little girl she should be just fine.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • frances

      The comment about not being able to leave bothered me too. Sounds like a cult to me.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Decliner

      I made the mistake to get into a german student fraternity, in my college days. Got in easy, because a friend had family ties to the fraternity.... Kept it up for 1 (one) semester, and got the he.ll out of it.
      That's when it started that I had all those 'visits' from fraternity guys, asking me to reconsider, come back, and on and on and on. I would call that just 'low' group pressure. Now imagine the pressure an organized cult can exert over you after you gave your life and control over it to them... Your money, your self-esteem, your social network, all tied up in the machinations of an organized hierarchical cult.. Not that easy to get out. (I left the catholic church in my youth, nobody tried to stop me, and yet, I almost felt "shame" for some time afterwards. That's what socialization and / or brain washing does to you.)

      July 11, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  9. jesus&me22

    To the person who took the time to type several long-as-hell multiple choice questions: dude or dudette let that anger go...believe in whatever you so choose & be happy; you don't have to attack or vilify what others may believe in to make a point.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Hear Ye

      What's a jesusfreak doing in a scientology discussion?

      July 11, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  10. dave

    > "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."

    how do they stop you from leaving and just walking away?

    July 11, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • Diddlysquat

      Overwhelming intimidation and the feeling that you're always being watched. By this point, you have no friends outside of Scientology so there's no support for you to leave.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. Hollywood Insider

    Cruise used to have a Napolean complex, but it worsened into a God Complex and so becoming a very big deal in the church of Scientology was perfect for Cruise where he could preach to people and be worshipped like a God. In truth, this is why most celebrities join Scientology – to feed their God Complex. The reality of this so called religion is that Scientology is more like a quasi militaryCULT, and becoming very dangerous for unsuspecting women "recruited" to become wives, and poses a darker risk for the children of these cult figures. Celebrities like Cruise are caotivated by Scientology becasue it combines a militray aspect and a supreme being aspect -- a dengerous combination.

    Watch for future federal probes and raids on these military like fortresses where women and children are brainwashed in servitude...

    July 11, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • littlelassie

      I don't think Tom Cruise's massively huge ego, created by an oversized Napolean complex, would allow him to admit that he was suckered into being the celebrity face of a con job cult. Buying his way into a vaunted position of perceived power and superiority feeds his narcissism and insecurity. That's why he gravitated towards an organization that practices intimidation, control, bullying, harrassment, isolation and secrecy. I don't think his overblown sense of self could withstand some self-introspection. He keeps marrying young, naive and seemingly pliant women who he can brow-beat into Scientology subservience.

      Good for Katie for brilliantly hatching an escape plan to shield her child from the damaging indoctrination....

      July 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  12. Conrad

    divorce because Scientology really?
    well then maybe I should try to join too the Church of Scientology
    I doubt my wife will divorce me but is worth to try

    July 11, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  13. Rick

    Typical religion....money, fear and control.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  14. A dose of reality

    Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      These ten guidelines are great.
      The biggest problem I see is how to get the willingly blind to open their eyes and brain. Should they not be using their "god given brain"? Seems like not using their "god given brain" would be an affront to god.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Butch

      Wow, really? Perhaps you should talk with a physicist, perhaps one that is working on finding the God-particle. Now, I'm no physicist, but any line of work that BELIEVES something exists but yet can't be seen but may be KNOWN by its influence on the perceived world seems to be at odds with your ten commandments. Life is a search for meaning. Life in this physical world is not necessarily limited to the physical reality we perceive around us. However, if you wish to limit yourself to the physical only, be my guest. Just try not to denigrate those who would seek to understand the "seen" and "unseen" world. It's not very good form!

      July 11, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Why

      I'm Athiest but it's unclear as to why you care so much what others think. You sound just like a Christian trying to convert others. "How we do make them..." Take a look in the mirror. You really aren't that different.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Why

      That was for Elmer, not the OP.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • JayneQP

      When one espouses his opinions on other faiths, he ought to know a little bit about them. You mentioned Hindu's in your item about being of a faith only because one was born into it, geographically. It is ironic, and it would behoove you to read some of the Vedic scriptures to find out why that one statement was so foolish. You might want to start with the Bhagavad-gita: As It Is (AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, translation). p.s., I am a white, American, woman born into a Catholic family... and a Hindu by choice.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • JayneQP

      ...and never take the advice of a human being with no greater intelligence than your own on how to live your life... including someone claiming to have all the answers for you...someone like, "A DOSE OF REALITY".

      July 11, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """You mentioned Hindu's in your item about being of a faith only because one was born into it, geographically."""

      Jayne, don't be pedantic. You know as well as we do that where you're born has a LOT to do with what religion you're indoctrinated in as a child. Most people stay with that indoctrination. A few, like yourself, are ingrained with that mysticism as a child but seek out another form once you've attained adulthood. But you're a minority.

      Were you not Catholic as a child? If you were brought up as an atheist do you think you would have chosen Hinduism as an adult? I sincerely doubt it.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      @why,

      So, you do not care what others think when,

      Rick Santorum introduces legislation to teach creationism in Pennslyvania schools,

      The Texas school board makes changes to standards regarding incorporating creationism in science text books, or at least the presumptive, but false, impression of the "controversy" being equal on both sides,

      The Texas school board makes changes to standards regarding US history to say the US is a "Christian nation"

      Millions of dollars (much of that tax free religion dollars at that) are spent to influence laws like Ca prop 8

      Why do you not care what these people think?

      Silence is the voice of complicity. You should care.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      @why,

      How about the state of Kentucky that is trying to tax payer dollars for building a creation science based Noah's Ark Park.

      You don not care what these people think?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • runtumblerun

      @ A dose of reality: Wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it enough to copy it down for future reference.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  15. pinkfloyd43

    Do you still spell cult as 'Scientology'? Been there done that and after realizing how much $$ was going their way realized it was not worth the girl that had gotten me into it! Nothing against them as whatever you find in life to help is fine with me but it's simply my opinion of the place. Did I like it, probably not as much as the hot girl that turned me on, to it!

    July 11, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      That reminds me of my first ever brush with the Pod People, when I was a college student The Pod People encouraged pretty blonde girls to entice us to go to their "events". The girls acted like they were really, REALLY interested in you. Cute as they were, we still knew it was a trap and didn't go.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  16. really?

    Tom is a goof ball.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  17. whybs

    Your god can suck mine! Trust me. This won't happen 'cuz god doesn't exist. If it does, you need meds.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  18. babakazoo

    All religion is creepy.

    There is no God people, there is nature.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Keets

      OH! THANK YOU!!!! and all along, you had the answers I was looking for!!!! AWESOME! Now I can live my life without a conscience. WHEW! What a relief Sri Sri babakazoo!

      July 11, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  19. whybs

    This was how Christianity started ~2000 years ago! So, give Scientology a few more years to wean off breastfeeding.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Steve

      No it's not. Not similar in any way shape or form.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • A dose of reality

      Really, christianity didn't start out as a ridiculed cult that grew into a major cult? Please, read some history! All religion started small and grew big. All relgions perpetuate prior myths and legends and twist them a bit to make them 'new'. Christianity,Islam,Mormon,Scientology....all the same BS.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Give it time. In a thousand years or so Scientologists will be suicide bombing the Church of Elvis.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  20. achepotlex

    License and tax all these freaks...Scientologists, Baptists, Evangelicals, Episcopalians, Moonies....we can't stop them from spreading lies and poison, but we can tax and regulate them, like tobacco.

    July 11, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • Dennis

      We don't tax them so that they'll stay out of politics.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:51 am |
    • achepotlex

      yea, that has worked real well, Dennis...so, since that experiment has failed, we let them stay involved in politics, and we get involved in their religions.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      @Dennis,
      But the religions are not staying out of politics.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Mark

      @Dennis – You doofus. Religions ar eexempt to prevent discrimination, and even still, they get their disgsuting, ungodly and ammoral paws into every aspect of politically life there is. Ever hear of Prop 8. Man do you live under a rock. I think it would be better for us to tax stupid people like you. People without facts are what kills this country. YOU are an enemy of the state via your stupidity.

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

      @Mark,

      Why would it be discrimination to tax all religions?

      July 11, 2012 at 7:14 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.