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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. Mike

    Scientologists are an embarrassment to organized religion. I guess thats what bored, rich people do with their time. Nothing left to buy or collect. Ya notice that only rich celebrities are scientologists? No poor people allowed? I get it. Tom Cruise used to be a respected and liked actor who is now a goofball moron that most people hate. His films dont draw and he is old news. Maybe he can go find the Aliens that created the human race? Idiot.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  2. muslim2012

    so who these people pray to science,and who is their prophet,they called this thing a religion,wow what is tom and howard smoking

    July 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • sam stone

      people pray to science?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  3. Keel Hauler

    In essence, this says the church can't hope to exist without big-name celebrities in it's ranks to attract the masses. It also sounds like only those celebrities have any hope of advancement or freedom witihin the church. What a crock that organization is.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  4. Bobby D

    I think TC is getting divorced because he is gay.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  5. diana

    All religions are cults. Tom Cruise would be wise to think hard about the hold Scientology has on him and all its followers and get out. He would be wise to realize how ignorant most people think he is because he believes in Scientology's ridiculous dogma and walk away. The respect he would earn by choosing his wife and child over this fake church would be phenomenal and if anything, a smart career move. He's simply too brainwashed and afraid to make the right move. The high commanders of the church, or whatever these clever fools call themselves, must be very proud of their little, brainless robot, as all good cult leaders would be. Tom Cruise needs to open his eyes, grow a pair, turn his back on Scientology and run.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  6. Glenn

    Get permission to leave? sounds scary. I wonder what that means.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Science Prevails

      It means you don't walk out. You get beat out.

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

    Why the hell is this front page news? Why does this matter to me or anyone else? Does this affect our lives in any significant way? The answer is no. CNN you are becoming no better than Entertainment Tonight. Nothing more than mind numbing intellectual bubble gum. Who the F*#K CARES!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Look at the banner up top. See where it says "Belief Blog"?

      You have the entire Internet to get whatever real news you so desperately crave. Leave here – go there.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Vincent Lefaive

      This is front page news because Americans are little more than self centred know it alls that worship false idols.... it's in the bible kids.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      I believe CNN is being informative to the public. It is up to the reader to open their mind in the future if they happen to come accross a recruiter to convince a "celebrity" like "you" heh heh heh!

      July 11, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  8. Bill

    Scientology, like other religions, is a big, man-made farce. There is not one ounce of concrete evidence of any of the "teachings". It always amazes me the some really otherwise intelligent people fall for that crapola.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Nelson

      Yes, and thank you for saying so. I see little difference in this and all the "Guardian Angel" , Limbo, Purgatory, Bodily-Ascensions-intoHeaven, Virgin Birth crap I Was fed

      July 11, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  9. FrankR

    Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Scientology. Any good support/professional group can help you deal with many problems in life without joining a cult and giving up your freedom. I have watched some videos of Hubbard and this guy was as looney as you can get, but he knew how to manipulate people in a vulnerable state.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Which God??

      Good reply, FrankR. This really is one scary cult, with their vindictiveness to their ex- members, and any who seriously questions them. Ever notice how every religion/cult says that, those who oppose them are 'hate-filled?' Yep, typical response on the emotional level, desighed to get folks fired up. When logic and reasoned questions preval, stuff like this scientology crud fades away. L Ron was just as crooked as Jos. Smith and Brigham Young.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  10. LarryB

    If the viability of your religion depends on anything an actor says or does, there's obviously very little legitimacy to it. Scientology represents the triumph of form over substance.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  11. liz

    Scientology is a cult anytime you are told to keep secrets or have to pay to advance thru steps for 'enlightenment' or when an organization consistently claims people who question it's beliefs are liars and fools you have a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • TR6

      “or when an organization consistently claims people who question it's beliefs are liars and fools you have a cult.“

      What religion doesn’t do this?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • ALM

      Liz, you are absolutely correct!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  12. kro513

    Scientology and every religion are made up of weak minded people. What are we living in the middle ages still?

    July 11, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • fixer2010

      Weak-minded people? Dark ages? You have a sad life, don't you? People can dwell in their own misery, they don't need you to judge them. Perhaps you should concern yourself with your own life, and quit telling people how they should believe.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Perhaps you should concern yourself with your own life, and quit telling people how they should believe."""

      Not so fast. I'd agree with you if it were not for the attempts by these folks to teach creationism in public schools or change government policies to conform to their religious beliefs.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  13. Pablo

    Tom, pray to your dog for all we care. Just keep making those movies, baby!!

    July 11, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  14. repoman

    We've got a Presidential candidate who believes a drunkard wandering in the woods found golden tablets written by God in a strange language and magic eye glasses that let him – and only him – translate them. I'd go on, but just trust me, the beliefs just get weirder from there.

    Yet CNN wants to spend time on celebrity gossip.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Dan Green

      I completely agree but, on the other hand, we've got a current President who cllaims to believe that there exists a man whi was born of a virgin birth, is the living son of God, walked on water, performed miracles, died and the rose into the air five days later, and if you don't believe all of these things, when you die you will suffer in a lake of fire for all eternity. How's that for craziness, and yet the majority of Americans believe the same thing. At the same time, a perfectly sane person that runs for President under the belief that none of these things are true wouldn't stand a chance, so what are you gonna do?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  15. money miracles

    With all that money, Cruise can't even fix those big buck teeth or atleast get a nose job

    July 11, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  16. Five-Tools

    Holmes is a young lady with money, desires to achieve on her own merit and most likley wants a chance to just not have to answer to anyone. It seems pretty normal really. I find it very unfair to Cruise that he is being blamed for the failure of the marriage alone, that people are hung up on wishing and thinking he was gay and that his religious beliefs are any less honorable than anybody elses. Most of you don't know iether Holmes or Cruise and speculation means absolutly nothing. So before you continue bashing Cruise, take a good look at your own lives and see how you would feel if you life became public. For most of you it wouldn't be pretty. So get off his back.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  17. roy

    Who cares?

    July 11, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  18. lolarites

    The church assumes that we buy TC's fake personal facade and his sham marriages. We never bought any one of it. All they are interested in is the money he brings to them. If they were smart, they would see that TC is the last person they would want to represent their church.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Alex

      You have absolutely no idea about what you are talking about! Yes, there are fake religions, weird religions and other self-delusions, some of them calling themselves Christians, including the Scientology cult. But there is such a thing as true CHRISTians with a real experience with a real God. The problem is, your five earthly senses are incapable of apprehending the reality of spiritual things...Jesus put it this way: "Unless you are born again, you CANNOT see the Kingdom of God." How can you be a judge of something you cannot see, much less understand? I have a real relationship with God, and my experiences with him over the years have taken away from me every doubt forever! A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a mere argument! If you ever saw a dead person rise up and a cripple walk at the instant of prayer right before your eyes, may be, you too will lose all your doubts. Not that miracles by themselves proves a true religion; but the reality of God can only be grasped at a personal level, however a person's faith is activated to receive God's gift of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. I am sorry all you have ever known about Christianity is the FALSE Christ presented to you by false religions and other cults. I am only praying that one day you will meet the TRUE Christ..
      Interestingly, Jesus predicted this very phenomenon that has confused the whole world: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,a’ and will deceive many."

      July 11, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Alex

      Sorry, I was reacting to "JAMBO's" post, and not yours. Please disregard.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  19. Jambo

    Yes Scientologists are flakes, but they are not weirder or moronic than people who believe in other regligions, worshiping fake gods, and bibles that are pure works of fantasy fiction. And who think when you die that your spirit floats to a magical land in the sky, or under the earth in a hell. That doesn't sound as completely nuts to you as the scientology stuff? Seriously.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Scientologists are flakes, but they are not weirder or moronic than people who believe in other regligions, worshiping fake gods, and bibles that are pure works of fantasy fiction."""

      Isn't it ironic? The silliness of one's own religious beliefs is simply not comprehendable, yet the silliness of the mystic beliefs of other people is SOOOOO obvious.

      Why doesn't anyone stop to think about that?? In the proper context they're ALL silly.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Alex

      Alex
      You have absolutely no idea about what you are talking about! Yes, there are fake religions, weird religions and other self-delusions, some of them calling themselves Christians, including the Scientology cult. But there is such a thing as true CHRISTians with a real experience with a real God. The problem is, your five earthly senses are incapable of apprehending the reality of spiritual things...Jesus put it this way: "Unless you are born again, you CANNOT see the Kingdom of God." How can you be a judge of something you cannot see, much less understand? I have a real relationship with God, and my experiences with him over the years have taken away from me every doubt forever! A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a mere argument! If you ever saw a dead person rise up and a cripple walk at the instant of prayer right before your eyes, may be, you too will lose all your doubts. Not that miracles by themselves proves a true religion; but the reality of God can only be grasped at a personal level, however a person's faith is activated to receive God's gift of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. I am sorry all you have ever known about Christianity is the FALSE Christ presented to you by false religions and other cults. I am only praying that one day you will meet the TRUE Christ..
      Interestingly, Jesus predicted this very phenomenon that has confused the whole world: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,a’ and will deceive many."

      July 11, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """there is such a thing as true CHRISTians with a real experience with a real God."""

      Thanks for making my point, Alex.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  20. Keets

    I love how atheists can turn a discussion about a godless religion into a Christian bashing discussion. Their as tenacious in their hatred and condemnation of people who disagree with them as .... well.... as a Catholic.

    July 11, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Fn0rdz

      Blanket statement much?

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

      I think he wasn't just referring to Christianity, but to all the phony religions worshiping the thousands of gods made up by man.

      July 11, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """I love how atheists can turn a discussion about a godless religion into a Christian bashing discussion."""

      Keets, it's easy to do because one religion, godless or no, is as silly as the next.

      Christianity has its virgin birth, burning bush, flaming chariots, angels, demons, talking snakes, apples of knowledge, arks capable of sustaining every living thing on the planet, life after death, a "son" (what the?) of god, an all powerful god that can't write a decent, understandable book, a guy walking on water and making wine out of it..........

      geez I could go on but MAYBE you'll get the point.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • clonemastr

      Keets, you just destroyed your entire credibility with your snarky, and gratuitous Catholic comment. Well done!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Which God??

      No hate involved Keets. Your type just love to use that word, to rouse up the uniinformed to an emotional reponse. You cannot take direct questions of logic as you cannot sustain faith in such an an atmosphere of openess. Faith is merely wishing and hoping instead of looking and doing. Simple enouigh to figure out, yet you choose fantasy.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Ned Flanders

      Jesus is Santa Claus without the presents.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:13 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.