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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. Matt

    I'd rather hang out with fanatical muslims than scientologists.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • kingkong

      i like to hang out with computers and telescopes and be content with the FACT that NOBODY knows JACK to life's biggest question.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • sam stone

      kingkong: i agree. no one KNOWS, so why worry?

      "I don't ask questions, I'm just here to have fun" – Bugs Bunny

      July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  2. amazed2

    Hey TC ditch the man made sci-fi concoction and pick up a copy of the book Mere Christianity. Read it. You'll be glad you did.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  3. Jubei

    And why is this today's big story? There are people dying, starving and this is today's headline?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • kingkong

      people like to 'pile on'....
      this story provides the venue...

      July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  4. That only confirms...

    "you have to get 'permission' to leave (Scientology)"... Does that spell C U L T?? Besides, it seems pretty unAmerican to not have a choice about your beliefs...
    "Hubbard realized celebrities were key to his mission, according to the Scientology website. "The world is carried on the backs of a desperate few," Hubbard is quoted on the site"
    I definitely place TC on the top of this list of 'desperate few'. Goes to show that $$$ doesn't buy you brains. Poor little Tom carrying the burdens of the world on his shoulders...

    Katie, way to go and good luck

    July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Nan

      Most people actually have to escape. Then they are harassed for years. This is why Katie had to be so secretive about her filing for divorce. Her bodyguards and household staff at the time were Scientologists who reported everything that she did to the cult and to Tom. Her cell phones and computers were all monitored, so she had to have a friend buy and register the cheapo phone card type to use secretly to talk to her parents and lawyers and to arrange a new place to live. The press is actually a plus for her right now as another form of protection.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  5. DNA

    It's *smacks* of cult. Even the dumbest person can see that.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • no god

      All religions are cults.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  6. rashid

    Holmes is a B list actress, nothing much on her CV. Cruise is living off the Top Gun (1986) fame, modest success since then. Scieno is his family, where he feels comfortable. This is all about internet news cycle, not much else.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Jerry Maguire wasn't bad.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • James

      Surley you jest. He is still one of the biggest sellers in Hollywood and th.e world

      July 11, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  7. kingkong

    we are all made of the alien rocks that formed our planet, with the help of comets.
    by definition, hubbard is right. We are all aliens....

    July 11, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Yeah, but it's the whole thetan, Xenu, Galactic Federation thing where the story falls down.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • kingkong

      don 't get technical on me now, i'm only on my first cup!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • kingkong

      as far as hubbard goes, this is what happens when you mix too much Star Trek with California Sensimilla...

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

    QUACK QUACK! 'nuff said

    July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Which God??

      That was just too phunny. Seeeeeriuosly.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  9. Wes Scott

    Any religion that requires you to seek their permission, runs you through a security check and otherwise controls the way to enter and leave that religion smacks of NAZI Fascism to me. Scientology is about as Fascist as they come. Not even the Holy Roman Church is that authoritarian. It takes a true idiot to fall for Scientology, and "TC" seems to fit the profile perfectly. besides that, he is not even a decent actor.

    I do, however, agree that the matter of his marriage is a personal and private matter that should be left between members of the family. To the rest of us it is none of our business. I hope that they do what is best for themselves and their kids. Nothing else matters.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Neece

      How can anyone take this "religion" seriously! It was founded by a sicence fiction author! Really!!!! And the world will follow!!! Sheep being lead... Wow! Really!!!!!!!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  10. jacobsart

    You have to get permission to leave the church? Are you kidding me?

    July 11, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • kingkong

      no you don't. you just have to sufficiently arm yourself.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • ph

      I thought the same thing...permission to leave?
      Or else what?

      July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • jacobsart

      brilliant! well gosh, now I'm tempted to join just so i can leave!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • FistOfXenu

      They call it 'routing out' and it includes a LOT of being hassled to change your mind plus being 'encouraged' never to complain about your experiences in $cientoology on the outside. Like basically they have LET you go. If you just escape – they call it 'blow' – they make other kinds of trouble for you if they can.

      The higher up you were the harder they make it. And then there's the money they can say you owe, like if you were on staff in exchange for auditing or courses, they hit you with a 'free-loader's bill' (no joke). It can be thousands. And if you did anything they think made them look bad, they fair game you. (Google 'fair game scientology').

      On top of that they keep your confidential folders from auditing (they deny it but they've been caught publishing stuff from them). If you tell outsiders what they're really like they 'leak' your stuff to hurt you.

      You can still get John Atack's book Piece of Blue Sky and read how it works, and more have published about it all since.

      Hope that helps.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  11. Obsthetimes

    This vilification of Scientology by society is disgusting. Its feels like the Salem witch trials. Is sad that the world can't accept anything outside its narrow comfort zone of Islamo-Judeo-Christian values.
    Be it Mormonism, Scientology, Animism, Hinduism

    July 11, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • kingkong

      thats the problem you create when you force yourself to believe in something based, not on fact, but on a glandular secretion....

      July 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • ReasonableXX

      All religions, cults, and sects are equally as silly as the next.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • JR

      Criticizng Scientology is the equivalent of burnng people at the stake? I think that your hyperbole button is stuck.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  12. Johnny 5

    I would like to hear the Church of Scientology's explanation on fossils.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Xenu's poop.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  13. Stop Anachronistic Hypocrisy

    STOP Obama's war against Medical Marijuana Patients – Support UFCW Local 770
    http://www.ufcw770.org/cannabis

    July 11, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Just stop Obama. Vote Gary Johnson 2012.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Norm

      Stop the lies.
      Get educated before people like this convince you of their version of the truth.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Liberals lie more than anybody (except Republicans, I suppose).

      July 11, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • That only confirms...

      @ "rationale" [sic]... you mean 'rational' ? spelling. as for the rest: are you kidding me?

      July 11, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • That only confirms...

      sorry, apology, my mistake, withdrawn..

      July 11, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  14. LRonHubbard

    It's a Cult, plain and simple...I think Jim Jones and David Koresh were members lol.....freaks

    July 11, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • ph

      righto ! nuff said.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  15. Dzerres

    The only thing that bothers me about this outfit and all religions in general is that they continue to do all of their nutty stuff without paying a dime in taxes!

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

      I read the COS gave Tom Cruise a big fancy RV Bus with everything imaginable. Where is the IRS. Did Tom pay taxes on that luxury gift. I also heard David Miscavige has a fancy yacht. Does the COS own that yacht? COS is a cult and it is one big organized gang.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  16. Norm

    To call these people a "church" is laughable.
    Just like Conservative Christians wanting to elect a Mormon to the position of POTUS.
    Hypocrisy knows no bounds.

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

      The Compound 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 Compound many years ago, these sources have no current knowledge about the Church and their recollections are distorted by their animosity.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  17. Anne

    Scientology is one of the biggest scams and one of the biggest cults. Manipulative, controlling, shallow. It's all a con.

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

      Only smart people recognize that, and you r one of them

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. What

    F U all religions

    July 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  19. Tr1Xen

    I think I'm going to start worshiping Darth Vader. Just 'cause.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • jftl2012

      Anyone up for joining the church of the Fonz – ehhhhh?

      July 11, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Decliner

      you can't just worship Darth Vader...! What about my gods?? They need some attention too. What about the Spagetti Monster dog??

      July 11, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  20. ReasonableXX

    Since Scientology is very new, religion wise, it is easy for us trace its history and development. As such it is also very easy most of us to laugh and call its beliefs ludicrious.

    However, when you get down to it, it is no more or less ridiculous than every other man made organized religion out there. That means the majority of those criticizing it as crazy are hypocrites. Look at your own religion with the same objectivity and critical eye and you will see it is just as silly and outlandish as Scientology. It's the moderate believers that pave the way for extremists in anyreligions by validating their beliefs and not standing up to call them out on their BS.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Beavis

      Not too sharp, are ya?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Look at your own religion with the same objectivity and critical eye and you will see it is just as silly and outlandish as Scientology."""

      It's amazing how hard this is for people to do. They easily see the obvious craziness of others' beliefs, but are completely and utterly blind to their own.

      July 11, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Norm

      I wonder if when the time comes and you're just about to "wink out of existence", there won't be some kind of private conversation between you and God.

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

      """I wonder if when the time comes and you're just about to "wink out of existence", there won't be some kind of private conversation between you and God."""

      I'd say 'no'. There, now you can stop wondering.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      That would be a conversation between you and yourself.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Rumeli

      Scientology is different from other religions because it is exclusively for profit. You need to pay money to access Scientology's "religious" texts. In contrast, anyone can get a Bible for free. Just look in any hotel bed drawer.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • ReasonableXX

      Rumeli – The widespread availability of any religions writings does nothing to justify its validity or prove its superiority over other religions. In any religion, you must suspend reason and then ignore facts and history.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Decliner

      Thank you, Jeff. I fully agree.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:12 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.