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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. Grey

    How do you spell Scientology... C U L T.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      funny, thats the same way you spell christianity

      July 11, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  2. Rocket J. Squirrel

    A Religion created by a guy who wrote Science Fiction before he did this. Couldnt make any money with that so the next best thing was this. Unreal. the key to the American dream is to either get into politics or start your own Religion.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  3. krt

    Tom, a former Catholc and ex-seminarian in high school, kept on marrying Catholic girls such as Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes. If he is attracted and likes Catholic girls so much, he should return to Catholicism and really practice the faith. I think he finds scientology girls weird and so is he, he just don't know it.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • albert

      Really practice the faith? You are obviously not talking about the faith that is taught in the Bible. That Catholic church is far removed from anything the Bible teaches. Pagan rituals and Greek mythology is what the Catholic church teaches. Catholics worship the Pope and not God.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • wizjinx

      @albert...uh, whatever. The entire christian world practices pagan rituals. The Christian Bible contains many examples of rituals and storylines appropriated from previous religions.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  4. topperG

    who really gives a hoot...is there something relevant in this story.......

    July 11, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  5. er

    You have to ask to get out and go through security...I don't think that sounds like a cult...that sounds like a gang/mafia. RICOH laws in place anyone????

    July 11, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  6. Jeff Williams

    I live near Clearwater – Scientology's HQ. There you'll see the Pod People scurrying about everywhere, even on holidays. Always going somewhere, always got something to do. They are busy, busy, those Pod People.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  7. krt

    Tom, a former Catholc and ex-seminarian in high school, kept on marrying Catholic girls such as Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes. If he is attracted and likes Catholic girls so much, he should return to Catholicism and really practice the faith. I think he finds scientology girls weird and so he is, he just don't know it.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  8. popo

    GOOD FOR KATIE! She got the Hell Out Of That Circus Loveless Marriage!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  9. Jeff Williams

    A beautiful child. A beautiful (and apparently intelligent) wife. But TC chose Scientology over them. How sad.

    If ever you needed evidence that Tom Cruise is a fool, there it is......

    July 11, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  10. robonmv

    This country should grow some short hairs as Germany does and just say Scientology is not a religion, and yank their tax exempt status.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Laface

      Agreed! This is nothing but a greedy cult!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • wizjinx

      All churches should have their tax exempt statuses revoked.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  11. kbhrw

    Nut jobs in every cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • albert

      You forgot to mention Catholics, Baptists, Born agains, etc. All of these cults follow man and not God. Look at pagan rituals such as Christmas and Easter. Idol worship (cross, sign of the fish, Mary, saints), None of these teachings are in the Bible. Also, do your research before posting your ignorance.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  12. Reality

    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)

    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 7:26 am |
    • albert

      You forgot to mention Catholics, Baptists, Born agains, etc. All of these cults follow man and not God. Look at pagan rituals such as Christmas and Easter. Idol worship (cross, sign of the fish, Mary, saints), None of these teachings are in the Bible. Also, do your research before posting your ignorance.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • albert

      "Contemporary biblical and religious scholars" from Jesus day are the ones that him killed. Just saying.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • wizjinx

      All religions are a con game. Always have been and always will be. What the Mormons or Jehovah's believe is no more fantastical than what mainstream Christians believe.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  13. HAHA

    So, you have to ASK to get out? You have to go through a security check to get out? Sounds"cultish" to me. I have no problem with any religion and a person should have the right to believe as they choose...in my opinion of course. But the fact that this woman is afraid for her safety now that she has spoken really alludes that this is not a real "religion".

    July 11, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Seth

      I think that the fear *adds* credence that Scientology is a "real" religion, whatever the hell that means. It's not as if no one ever had to fear reprisals from Christian or Islamic leaders for breaking away from the fold, or any other big religion for that matter. They are *all* the same. Not a one of them is better or worse than any other.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Lynn

      I know someone who proudly told me that she and her husband had 3 interviews with the church they joined – mainstream in Tennessee – to make sure they 'believed' the same as the other members. Interviewed to join a church? I wouldn't want to be a part of a church who decided if I were a worthy Christian. BTW, this woman is a very unhappy, hateful woman.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  14. ....

    Remind me again why I should give a &*#$

    July 11, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Rick Shaw

      because how you spend eternity depends on it!

      July 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  15. JoeProfet

    I guess he'll be sobbing on Oprah's sofa over this one...

    July 11, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  16. bellenoitr

    "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." Sorry, this is not a religion. Scientology is more like Nazi camp.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  17. Simon D Richards

    every time I read about Scientology, my words are overlaid with circus music da da dadada da da daadaa ...

    July 11, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  18. Interested2

    Tom really should consider marrying a dedicated member of Scientology next time.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  19. Agreed

    Whew, I thought for a minute this was going to be a story of Scientology encouraging gay marriage, starting with Tom and John. But it will shortly.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  20. joe prov

    he should just admit the truth and find a man to settle down with.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:18 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.