5 Questions The Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes Divorce Brings Up (That The Church Of Scientology Would Rather You Didn’t Ask)

Katie Holmes’ decision to divorce Tom Cruise is big news for many reasons, the least of which is the actual demise of one of Hollywood’s most famous couples. Let’s be real — how many of us actually took them seriously as a love match and felt a pang of “Oh but they were such a cute couple” secondhand sadness? Not I. No, the main reason why this celeb split is so, dare I say it, exciting, is the prospect that the attention it gets could shine a very, very bright spotlight on the Church of Scientology, of which Tom Cruise has been a member for some 20 years.

Right out the gate, Katie Holmes has made it clear that she’s not taking the Nicole Kidman route in her split from Cruise. When Tom Cruise announced his decision to divorce Kidman in 2001, it was said that she was completely blindsided. Holmes, on the other hand, blindsided him, and is believed to have spent the last six months to a year plotting her move to end the relationship, including establishing residency in New York (where she would eventually file for divorce) and renting an apartment on the sly.

The day she announced her divorce plans, Holmes’ father reportedly fired all of the Scientologists on her staff so they couldn’t report back to Cruise and the Church. Considering Cruise wore the pants during their entire relationship — going so far as to make decisions about which film projects she would do (nothing too sexy!) and insisting on calling her “Kate” because it sounded more mature — catching him off guard and seizing back all the control he had over her was the first sign that Holmes was not messing around. Her official statement, which emphasized her focus on their daughter Suri’s well-being, coupled with her highly unusual request for sole custody, implied that Holmes is not going quietly. (Kidman, on the other hand, has rarely talked about what went wrong in her marriage to Cruise, has had very little to say about her experiences in Scientology, and has had the bare minimum of contact with her adopted children with the actor.)

The media, which, for the most part (save amazing articles in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Time, and ongoing coverage at the Village Voice), has been fairly hesitant to go after the Church of Scientology with any real ferocity, has finally started to ask questions about aspects of the religion that might have caused Katie to end her marriage. In most Hollywood splits, we almost always hear whispers of cheating; save for a ridiculous blind item about Tom Cruise and David Beckham, I have not read one article suggesting that Katie or Tom strayed. All of the focus has been on how Scientology might have played a role in their seemingly sudden breakup, and trust that the Church is very, very nervous to have prying eyes focused on their dealings. The Hollywood Reporter went as far as to say that Katie Holmes poses the biggest threat ever to the Church.

I happen to agree. Not because I think Katie knows all that much about the inner workings of the Church, and I certainly don’t think she knows as much as the ex-Scientologists who have been speaking out in books and on the internet for years. No, I think Holmes is the biggest threat to the Church because her leaving Cruise and the implication that it’s because of his religion — for what it’s worth (not much in my book), Cruise’s people have implied that her leaving has nothing to do with Scientology — serves to draw mass attention to many of Scientology’s bogus policies, not to mention legitimize the experiences those ex-Scientologists have been writing about for years. Most of all, this bit of celebrity gossip has led many to ask some big questions that the Church of Scientology would rather not answer. Here are but five of them…

1. “What Do Kids Actually Learn At Scientology Schools?” One rumor is that Holmes decided to end her marriage to Cruise at least in part because they had differing views on how to raise daughter Suri. Her request for sole custody — an unusual move, given that there has been no charges of domestic abuse, for example — indicates that remaining Suri’s primary parent is Holmes’ main goal. So how might she and Cruise have differed on parenting and why have their differences come to a head now? Well, at age six, Suri is ready for school and it’s believed that Tom wanted her to go to a Scientology school like his older chidren, Bella and Conor. Katie, on the other hand, wants Suri to attend a regular school and to be surrounded by kids who are not all Scientologists.

So, what goes down at a Scientology school? Children are taught using Hubbard’s “study technology.” One of the more strange techniques employed by study tech has students, who are having a hard time understanding a concept, mold that concept out of clay. Study tech also emphasizes that when a student stumbles over a word when, say, reading aloud, it’s because they don’t truly understand that word and are not allowed to continue reading until they’ve proven that they grasp the word they stumbled over. Even if that word is as simple as “is.” Seriously. Additionally, many Scientology schools use e-meters to monitor a students progress.

These and other methods employed by study tech have gained little acceptance among public school administrators or scholars of educational theory. Basically, study tech and Scientology schools are only taken seriously by other Scientologists. (Cruise, by the way, says that study tech cured him of his “functional illiteracy.”) There are also Scientology boarding schools and Jenna Miscavige Hill — the niece of Church leader David Miscavige — has described the horrible treatment she received as a child attending one of them.

2. “Does The Church Of Scientology Really Interrogate Children?” Speaking of which, another thing Suri Cruise is old enough for? Sec checking, or “security checking,” a process by which an e-meter (also used in the Church’s version of counseling, called “auditing”) is used as an interrogation device. According to the Village Voice’s sources, children begin to be subjected to these interrogations as young as six. Hubbard wrote an entire policy (anything written by Hubbard — known as “Source” — is considered to be Church doctrine) about how to sec check children and the Voice has a list of questions children are asked, the goal of which seems to be to get them to confess to “bad” behavior and to confess bad behavior they may have seen in others, like in their parents or siblings. These sec checking sessions are written up and recorded. The list of questions is exhaustive and keep in mind that each question is asked and answered repeatedly, until the e-meter registers that the child is not “hiding” anything.

Given that Tom’s elder children, Bella and Conor, lived with Katie and Tom — and Katie once told an interviewer that they called her “Mom” — she has more than likely been aware of them being sec checked and has probably been sec checked herself. Sec checking is hardly a Church secret, but it’s one of the many sort of lesser known (to the general population anyway) Church practices that the Holmes/Cruise divorce has inspired the mainstream media to look into. Cults — and I do believe that the Church of Scientology as an institution is a cult — indoctrinate people slowly and deliberately. The more the general public learns about Scientology policies and practices through non-Church sources, the less susceptible they are to indoctrination. (There’s a reason why the Church of Scientology wanted the Xenu story under wraps, y’all. It sounds cuh-razy to anyone who hasn’t already swallowed tons of Church bullshit.) In effect, what Katie Holmes may have disliked about Scientology and her husband’s participation in it is almost immaterial — what matters is that the Church is getting more attention than ever, and not the good kind.

3. “Are Children Recruited Into The Sea Org?” One of the more unlikely, in my opinion, theories for why Holmes might have left Cruise is that she feared Suri would be recruited to be a member of the Sea Org. The Sea Org is the Church’s “fraternal religious order” and members sign billion year (yes, billion year) contracts. Sea Org members work full time for the Church of Scientology, often times performing manual labor tasks, live in Scientology-owned buildings (in cramped quarters, often shared with other Sea Org members) and are paid a weekly allowance that reportedly is less than $50 a week. The majority of  outspoken ex-Scientologists — like Marty Rathbun (a member of the Sea Org for 27 years and one of the Church’s highest ranking members during that time), former church spokesman Mike Rinder, and transgender performance artist and memoirist Kate Bornstein — are also ex-Sea Org. They have described the Sea Org as being exploitative and abusive, amongst other things.

The chances of Suri Cruise being recruited for the Sea Org are pretty slim, at least until she’s older. She is, after all, Tom Cruise’s daughter and bringing Tom Cruise back into the Scientology fold was one of the Church’s biggest moves in the early 2000s. But he’s also reportedly kept blissfully unaware of much of what goes on within the Church’s inner sanctums. For example, when Cruise once toured the Sea Org headquarters called Gold Base, members were reportedly instructed on exactly how they should act and what they should say in his presence, so that he got the most gleaming impression of what being in the Sea Org is like. My hunch is that the Church wouldn’t want Suri, or any child of a star as high profile as Cruise, to find out what the Sea Org is really like, as keeping Cruise happy and practicing is of paramount importance. Rathbun, writing on his blog, agrees.

While Suri won’t be a Sea Org member any time soon, the question of whether she’s even eligible is worth discussing. Church officials maintain that the Sea Org doesn’t recruit anyone younger than age 16, but there is plenty of evidence, even in official Church materials, that prove otherwise. Additionally, quite a few ex-Sea Org members have attested to joining before they were 16, and there are reports of children being recruited at as young as six and eight years old. The ways in which this violates child labor laws are astounding. 

4. “Where Is Shelly Miscavige?” In The New Yorker’s fantastic profile of director (and former Scientologist) Paul Haggis last year, an interesting bit of information was mentioned almost in passing which piqued the curiosity of anyone with knowledge of the Church’s inner workings. The article referenced the fact that  Michelle “Shelly” Miscavige, the wife of Church leader David Miscavige, had not been seen in public since 2007 and her title as Chairman of the Board’s (COB’s) Assistant has been removed from Church dispatches. Even hough she’s been “missing” for years and The New Yorker article came out a year ago without much attention paid to that disturbing tidbit, suddenly major media outlets like Business Insider and the UK’s Daily Mail (though the latter is filled with errors, which have been dutifully corrected by the Village Voice) are writing about her disappearance, presenting theories culled from both viable sources and bad information about where she could be. Why? Because of her connection to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Up until her disappearance, Shelly Miscavige was a near constant presence at her husband David’s side. David Miscavige (above right), in addition to being the head of the Church of Scientology, is also Tom Cruse’s best friend. According to Marty Rathbun, when Tom Cruise split from Nicole Kidman, Miscavige tasked him with using this moment as an opportunity to get Cruise to be more active within the Church. Though Cruise had been a Scientologist for years, he was fairly uninvolved during his marriage to Kidman. Miscavige firmly believed that Cruise could be the key to taking Scientology to the next level, as his involvement would be the ultimate endorsement.

Rathbun also says that David Miscavige tasked Shelly with finding Tom a girlfriend/wife who, unlike Kidman, would support his involvement in Scientology. Remember those rumors that Tom essentially auditioned actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Garner to be his next wife? Well, those rumors are apparently based on some truth, though it was Shelly, not Tom, who was doing the scouting. Cruise eventually began a whirlwind romance with Holmes in 2005 and the two were married in 2006. Given how much time Cruise spent with Miscavige, Holmes undoubtedly saw a lot of Shelly. Surely she has wondered what became of Miscavige’s vanished wife?

More importantly, the mainstream media has found a reason to care too, thanks to the Holmes/Cruise divorce, and maybe those who’ve been wondering where Shelly is for even longer will finally get an answer. Yesterday, Scientology lawyer Gary Soter told The New York Daily News that Shelly Miscavige is not missing and claims that she is are “ridiculous.” He also referred to her as David Miscavige’s “ex,” though there has never been any evidence that they divorced, and he did not explain why she has not been seen in years. If Shelly is “okay” and Church officials know where she is, I wouldn’t be surprised if she suddenly made a public appearance after all this time to put to rest any theories that she’s dead.

My hunch is that Shelly is alive but had fallen out of favor with her husband and has been sent to one Scientology’s more remote facilities. The Village Voice has done a good job surmising just where that might be.

5. “Does Scientology Tell Members To Disconnect From Non-Believing Family And Friends?” One claim that’s long been made against the Church, which they’ve always denied, is that they force members to disconnect from friends and family who they view as “suppressive.” Suppressive persons, or SPs, are people who are viewed as enemies because their actions seek to impede the progress of individual Scientologists or the Scientology movement. Anyone who leaves the Church of Scientology is considered an SP and there are piles of evidence and testimonials that assert that their friends and family members who remain in the Church are forced or at least strongly encouraged to cease or have little contact with them.

One such possible example? The relationship between Nicole Kidman and her adopted children with Cruise, Bella and Conor. While they were legally granted joint custody at the time of their split, Conor and Bella have lived full time with their father. Kidman once told a reporter that it was “their choice” and that they even call her “Nicole” instead of “Mom.” They have not been seen in public with her in years. (In a recent, conveniently timed interview with an Australian magazine, Bella said that she sees her mom “sometimes.”)

While little is known about how much Kidman may or may not have tried to see her children over the years, there is at least one person who claims that the children were turned against their mom by the Church. Rathbun, who, again, worked very closely with Cruise when he was still a member (he was even his personal auditor, though he has vowed to never reveal what the actor said during his sessions), says that he witnessed current Church spokesman Tommy Davis (who, by the way, is married to a Sea Org staffer named Jessica Feshbach, who was tasked with being Katie’s new BFF/handler when she first started dating Cruise) having regular sessions with Conor and Bella at the time, in which he told them that their mother was “a sociopath.” Bella and Conor are both committed Scientologists, have been raised full time in the Church, and attended Church schools. It would appear that the Church at least, if not their father as well, got them to view their own mother as an SP and that as a result, they “chose” to have almost no relationship with her. (In a  recent interview with Bella in an Australian magazine asserts that

If this is true — and I am personally inclined to believe Rathbun — why shouldn’t Katie Holmes be afraid of the exact same thing happening to her when it comes to daughter Suri?

Note: For nine months in 2008, I worked with journalist Janet Reitman on her incredible book Inside Scientology. I transcribed many of her interviews with ex-Scientologists and organized her notes and research. In doing so, I learned much about the Church’s background and inner workings, according to writings of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard and those claims made by ex-Scientologists. I became personally very interested in the topic and in the years since helping with the book, read much more on the subject. There is veritable rabbit hole of information about Scientology on the internet and it only gets more complicated and interesting as more high-ranking members leave the Church and start talking. However, I am in no way an expert on Scientology.