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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. tmc

    Nevertheless, the quest for a HOLY GRAIL of public influence destroyed the reputation of the insitution and became fodder for trashy tabloids. When you shine a spotlight on most religions you can see all the flaws clearly.. it's only a matter of time. Do people have a better feeling about Mormonism from Romney running for president? Scientology marketed themselves as a celebrity and rich & powerful (maybe bautiful looking people too) place to be... but society knows better than to flock to a place with hollow role models (at least some do). The other half that don't end in divorce of some kind down the road..

    July 11, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • cb

      Gosh this is just a divorce... everyone has the right to believe in what they want. It is unfortunate that they did not do enough soul searching to determine if they have the same common ideology as a basis for a sucessful and happy union together. Again it is just a very sad part of their journey in their lives and the life of their daughter. Let's commend them for settling this in 2 weeks and let them begin to mend and hopefully find a way to love again and to take care of their daughter. What matters now is engaging everyone in an economy that can employ 5% more people than it does now.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  2. Ken

    "...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." - Yep, I can see right here the "church" does not hold grudge and is respectful of peoples decisions to leave the church. LOL

    July 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  3. lostisland

    "Damages the church?" – Fantastic! – Anything non-violent that damages religion(s) has got my full support. I'm sick-n-tired of the insanity called 'religion'. It's destructive on so very many levels that far outweigh any 'good' that comes from it.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Todd

      A world without religion, we will still have people finding new ways to be generally bad and cruel to other people.
      Religions are usually started as a way to help reduce people from doing bad things... However the problem is all religions are run and operated by people (the group that has a problem with being mean to others) So we have a lot of problems that goes on in the Name of Religion... However for most of the religions they are not even fully following the teaching of it, but cherry picking a few phrases out of context.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  4. raggedhand

    Permission to leave? Security checks? Darling, you find the door and you walk out. It's not the Army and has no legal recourse to hold you.

    Scientology won't get it's black eye from TC's divorce. It will simply say he is devout but he can't control other people and it was her decision. So they'll put the blame on her. The black eye comes from the fact she felt she had to hide and get body guards to protect herself from a cult.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. ipmutt

    The very last place you want to go for input on Faith is a CNN website.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  6. Richard

    L. Ron Hubbard was a bad scifi writer who decided he didn't like what psychiatrists were saying about him so he went on a crusade to debunk what they did. So he invented a story about how the spirits of space convicts infect the bodies of people and the only way to rid yourself of them is to pay a lot of money and hold onto a machine much like a galvanic response meter or "lie detector." L. Ron is long dead (thankfully) but his psychosis wears on.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • lostisland

      Bad Sci-Fi writer? – Battlefield earth is a great read, he got that right at least. Fun, humorous, and intelligent.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  7. bitnar

    All churches are business organizations. Some are bigger and more successful than others.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  8. simondmorgan

    Amazing that CNN ran this. You turned down doing an expose with Marty Rathbun who was well versed in Scientology in lue of hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising money from the church (which was a bribe). Stand up CNN and do what's righ and report the truth not what money dictates.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  9. yoshi

    Okay, how obvious is this scam. It's the same as celebrity endorsements of products. They coddle and give incredible service to the celebs who are rich and high-profile. They use this as a lure for the person on the street, to bring them in, start taking their money and use their weakness to enslave them. Look at all the ex-members on YouTube. Read books from ex-members. This is just one giant pyramid scheme where the people at the top are making a killing by exploiting people at the bottom and the bottom members are used to bring in more members. They basically offer simple therapy like any psychologist so sure people feel better and would if they went to a psychologist. But Scientology exploits these people at a time of weakness and pull them into their evil lair. Cruise and all the other celebs are kept ignorant of this. So he supports evil of the worst kind -preying on weak people.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  10. Ganan

    Why is this called a "religion" when it is clearly storm trooper tactics........

    July 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  11. Scott

    This divorce isn't about scientology, its about today's women being unable to honor a marriage vow.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Carla

      Yeah, I'm sure that's it... ROFLMAO

      July 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Ex-Catholic Glo

      Did your parents have any children born with brains, or just you?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • midwstrngrl

      or men....

      July 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • raggedhand

      I detect a hint of bitterness.

      This woman has been married to the same man for 26 years. Most men and women are faithful, but it does take two to be committed. Holding grudges and hating women won't get you a good one.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • diana

      Oh, like today's men do? Yeah, all good wives should stand by thier men, no matter what. He cheats? Forgive him. He abuses? Give him a big ol' hug. He lies? No matter. Or gee, let's see. What else could a husband do that might put a strain on a marriage? Oh, right. Belong to a cult and choose it over his wife. Yeah, any good woman would put up with that matter. He belongs to a cult and is choosing it

      July 11, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Andrew

      LOL.

      Yeah! Thats it...

      July 11, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Dan

      It's about women? How pathetic. What about the men that cannot honor their vows?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Guest

      Now that's an archaic way of thinking.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  12. Andrew

    Hubbard really knew how to real in the retardly rich so he could become rich himself off of a religion that makes less sense than an episode of Sponge Bob.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Sheryl

      Great comment..........so very true. I often wonder what the crap is a Sponge Bob.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Which God??

      Oh, great statement there. Nail, meet hammer.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  13. Marti58

    TC can believe in whatever he wants to..as long as he doesn't try to force his convictions on others.
    I also would question if L. Ron Hubbard's fantasy life is a religion??!!
    I read some of his work, including dianetics – which I thought was a rather lame self-help book.
    I think Tom needed something to anchor his life, I know he attended 13 schools in 14 years, and his childhood was very unsettled. He might be a sought after actor but he is not very bright..Thanks

    July 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  14. SafeNHisGrace

    The Holy Bible teaches us that what is done in secret will be brought into the light"...and that is just what is happening here! The fake-ness of this church cannot withstand against the truth of the Most Holy God!!! Thank You Lord for shining your light on the darkness! Let the truth be told!

    July 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • diana

      Huh? Sorry, Christianity is as much a cult, and as dangerous, as Scientology.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      AMEN!!!

      THANKS YOU JESUS!

      July 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Andrew

      More dangerous since Christians actually have held legitimate power for centuries and has used that power in various ways. Scientology doesn't have thousands of years of growth especially since we are in an age where irrational faith based systems are becoming more and more questioned.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Dax Ward

      Absolute brainwashed, small minded, cliched nonsense which has no relevance to anyone outside of your circle of idiots who spout the same b.s. to each other. Please stop breeding. Abortion isn't a sin if people like you partake. It benefits us all.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  15. SUPER CHRISTIAN

    SCIENTOLOGY, MORMONISM, AND ISLAM ARE FALSE RELIGIONS!!!

    MOHAMED AND JOSEPH SMITH WERE CHILD MOLESTERS! L RON HUBBARD WAS JUST A NUT.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      And Jesus thought he was the son of a warmongering storm deity.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      JESUS IS THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT!!!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Do you wanna feel Jesus' salvation all over your face?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • bobby

      all "religions" are false and for the obsequious and stupid.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      IF YOU DON'T GET JESUS ALL UP IN YOU SADNESS IS YOU FUTURE!!!

      ASK JESUS RIGHT NOW TO COME IN YOU!

      July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Andrew

      Mormonism is Christianity created in America to say that the chosen few are going to be saved in America and not Israel. Yeah its hog wash but chances are you follow a religion that has been conformed by someone to shove down you and your communities throat. Christianity is nothing like it was 500 years ago. Hell 500 years ago I'd probably be put to death for making this comment since it would be considered heresy.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • sam stone

      "ASK JESUS RIGHT NOW TO COME IN YOU!"

      Only if he is wearing protection

      July 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  16. bobby

    "My job was to ensure that celebrities were recruited, that celebrities were well serviced " humm? wonder what that all entails?

    July 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      Serviced? Hmmmm, I used to get serviced daily by a girl I dated briefly in college. Ahhhh, servicing.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Fornication before wedlock. You're going to Hell.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      Her "servicing" was technically fornication.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      CORRECTION:

      Her "servicing" was NOT technically fornication.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Satan and I are going to torture you so much for your filth and lies. Satan and I see past your technicality.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • kingkong

      "well serviced" means......only with the 'hand'.....you know......'the hand'....

      July 11, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  17. jenny

    "you don't have the freedom to just walk out" WTH???? do these people know they live in america? i have no respect for any of those actors/freaks participating in this cult...i would like list of them to make sure i do not watch their shows and or movies....geez, "can't walk out" they disgrace our founding fathers and should leave america

    July 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • midwest3

      Jenny – I thought the same thing when reading that Ms. Pressley couldn't "just leave" the church. Was she locked inside a building or compound? If she were to face any real threat or danger from the church were she to leave, then wouldn't that be a matter for the police?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  18. LiberaLIowan

    Scientology. What a laugh. Some people will believe anything. Kind of like christians.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      And liberals.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • real american

      and atheists

      July 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Mirosal

      Remember, this all came from the mind of a FAILED sci-fi author. He couldn't sell his books, so he had to find SOME way to make money. But, not giving the members freedom to leave at will only says what kind of CULT this really is.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • SUPER CHRISTIAN

      ... and Republicans.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • kingkong

      uhhh....athiests 'don't' believe.....
      dimwit.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • mdwesterngrl

      rigid ideology is what you call it. based on emotion and not reason. religious or political...they are both the same.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Mirosal

      So, what do you think Atheists believe?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """what do you think Atheists believe?"""

      Belief has nothing to do with my views on life. I try to gain understanding of my world through learning, not through dogma or faith.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  19. Jim

    Tom Cruise's repeated marriages and divorces (always when she reaches 33 – numerologists will have a field day!) are trivia, not news. I don't care about custody arrangements for their daughter, any more than I care about custody arrangements for my neighbors (quick – name the kid who lives behind you). I am interested in the effect on Scientology, though – is it true that the church attracts whacky people who do whacky things (remember Oprah's couch)? Do they really believe Earth was populated by aliens?

    July 11, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  20. Sam

    I wonder why all the "artists" like – TC, MJ – etc who are good in their profession, are such wierdos? Hmmm...

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

      Yeah Sam I bet you're a bastion of normality.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:34 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.