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. Tammy

    Katie has the goods on "TC" AND Scientology and their members, that's an almost guarantee, that's why "TC" hasn't fought like hell against the divorce and against the fact that Katie wants Suri....

    July 11, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  2. Ben

    Why would they want to recruit Brad Pitt in the 1980s? No one heard of him until 1991.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  3. JR

    When your religion and thus your life is based upon and run by a guy that wrote really crappy science fiction novels, the odds of getting a good result in the end are nil.

    If Holmes left because of this and the impact that it would have on her kid, good for her. I don't usually clap for divorce but a mother that stands between her child and oblivion is a good mother.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  4. Erin

    I would argue that SCIENTOLOGY has been more of a detriment to Tom Cruises marriages then his divorces have been to Scientology. When 3 wives leave you for your "Religion" that was only invented about 70 years ago.. perhaps you should start to consider that it might be a CULT – and it might be YOU, and not them. Just a thought...

    July 11, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Who invited me?

      All religions are cults

      July 11, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • GodYes_ReligionNo

      ALL religions are cults & lies. People want to feel that they are "special" and every religion is more than happy to tell them that they are, as long as they blindly believe whatever they are fed and donate to keep the leader of the church in power.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Noocrat

      "'Religion' that was only invented about 70 years ago"

      Age shouldn't play a role in the argument. At some point, every religion was only 70 years old. Standing the test of time doesn't make one thing more right than another. It just means one was better at tricking or forcing people into believing it.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  5. diane

    What does religion and "well-serviced celebrities" have to do with each other? Oh wait, money?? This is not a religion, it's a pyramid scheme.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Vincent Lefaive

      For 3 easy payments of $99.99 I'll explain it all to you, and if you act now I'll send you a free gift... do you like porcelain Aardvarks ?

      July 11, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  6. Ranger03

    Too bad it doesnt teach you how to be a better husband...come on three marriages?

    July 11, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  7. boocat

    Of all of the bogus "religions", this one gets the grand prize. R.L. Hubbard made a bet with another science fiction writer that he could create a religion and reap monetary rewards with it. He won the bet, obviously. P.T. Barnum was right. There truly is a sucker born every minute.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • GodYes_ReligionNo

      ALL religions are bogus. People want to feel that they are "special" and every religion is more than happy to tell them that they are, as long as they blindly believe whatever they are fed and donate to keep the leader of the church in power.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  8. OhioMom2

    Call it was it is – a cult. TC you joined a cult and you're a brainwashed idiot. Your 3 ex-wives must be counting their lucky stars each and every single day.

    Katie – so glad you got out of this marriage. I don't think there's anyone on the face of the planet that isn't happy for you, except for these brainwashed sheep known as Scientologists.

    What a frightening cult Scientology is. This divorce is now shedding more light and info on this cult. For that, we thank you Katie and now enjoy the rest of your life Katie.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  9. rand

    I would run full speed AWAY from Tom Cruise..................

    July 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  10. Rags

    So what happens if you get fed up with this BS and just walk away. Do they shadow you? Do they follow you around to see what you're up to? Do they tap your phone and monitor your calls? Seems to me that something is missing and this isn't a religion at all but rather a mind controlling group.
    Get out while you can and don't listen to their BS. Just walk away and never look back.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  11. RichardSRussell

    All religions are based on lies. We just have a better look at the history of Scientology's lies than most.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  12. kingkong

    Humanity just HAS to manufacture an answer to the big questions.....they cannot be content knowing that the true answers are currently out of reach, and that they "just don't know"....

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

      Only Hubbardites and techno-freaks have to manufacture an answer. Try standing upright instead of hanging from a perch if you wish to see clearly.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  13. Johanna

    Not suprising this cult brainwashes stars! They know that some people follow everything a celebrity says & does, like a flock of sheep. Thank goodness Katie was a lot smarter then Tom & his cult gave her credt for. Of course he was "blindsided"! Tom thought he had brainwashed her into allowing him to drag Suri into his cult. For him to find out that Katie was not the subduded, meek dumb little girl he thought she was, shocked him, & exposed Scientology as the sick cult it is! Since he is a "Top Dog" for his cult, I bet they ordered him to comply with Katie's wishes so they could get the cult out of the headlines!
    Well TOO LATE!! The sick truth about this cult has been exposed thanks in part to Katie! Thank goodness she was able to get Suri away from this cult before Tom dragged her into it & destroyed her like he did his other 2 kids!

    July 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • kingkong

      "Since he is a "Top Dog" for his cult, I bet they ordered him to comply with Katie's wishes so they could get the cult out of the headlines!"

      Good point.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Annie

      Totally agree. I've hoped for some time that the FBI, CIA or someone is watching this cult closely. Too many people have 'escaped' and said they are a sinister bunch. You don't need permission to leave a religion. You do need permission to leave a cult. And what is up with their sea military outfit? What the hell is that and what do they do? The celebrities they recruit don't seem to be all that bright. "TC" is an idiot with a tremendous ego – of course he would fall in with a 'church' that makes him an elite member. Anyone who has seen the video clips of him spouting off about SP's (suppressive persons) realizes he's deranged. The man is psycho. Katie is safe because she's famous. Otherwise we'd be reading about the mysterious disappearance of TC's wife. This cult needs to be shut down.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  14. ph

    Gonna put a spell on you and we won't let you come with us with the Big Ship comes to give us a ride!

    July 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  15. Jules

    If you need permission to leave a church or any organization, that would be enslavement or a cult. That is plain and simple, creepy.

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

    Religion is the biggest lie ever conceived by human beings. No person ( with a sane mind) has ever seen a god, angel or magical unicorn. I believe there is a creator but these things you hold so dear and are willing to kill or die for are lie's created by another person in the past.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Lies. What's with the unnecessary punctuation? Usually people forget to punctuate.

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

      God Bless You.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Who invited me?

      and god less you Lawrence

      July 11, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  17. Rational Libertarian

    Apparantly Pressley is a Christian now. Out of the frying pan....

    July 11, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  18. mslisac363

    It's called two young for you Tom. She got tired of him and took her payout.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Rational Libertarian


      July 11, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • kingkong

      it wasn't a 'hard' choice....
      100 mil or 'limpy at 50' for the rest of eternity....

      July 11, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Norm

      Hey Rat....do you know how annoying you are correcting everyone's grammar and punctuation?
      Wise up...

      July 11, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It's tough if people find it annoying. Unless I sense someone is employing some sort of Joycean language deconstruction (unlikely on an internet forum), I correct their mistakes. Only then will they improve their English writing skills.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  19. gary

    1) why do religions compete for members? Cash?
    2) Cruise is a flaming azzhole

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

      Religions recruit because the more people that you can convince to share your outlandish belief in nonsense, the more justified you feel in having that belief yourself.

      July 11, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  20. i_know_everything

    time to come out of the closet, Tom, it's ok

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

      when tom introduced the 'strap on' to her, she ran for the hills!!

      July 11, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • R.Kelly

      I was just standing here...Tom Cruise won't come out of the closet, why won't Tom Cruise come out of the closet?

      July 11, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Jim in DC

      "I know everything", that was my first thought too. Thats why his first two marriages failed and why no one talks about their time as "Mrs. Cruise" because he is married simply as part of a larger cover-story. Not the first time it was done by a hollywood leading man to preserve his image.....

      July 11, 2012 at 9:18 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.