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Goodbye, Scientology

My Escape From 'Sea Org'

Astra Woodcraft grew up in the hard-core, militaristic arm of Scientology known as the Sea Organization—until she risked everything to break free. As told to Abigail Pesta.

I was 7 years old—just a year older than Suri Cruise—when I entered the Orwellian world of rules, rewards, and punishments known as the Church of Scientology.

Before that, I had led a relatively normal life with my family in London. My parents were Scientologists, but not in a zealous way. Then my mother decided to become more involved with the church, and we moved to Clearwater, Florida, where she joined a religious order called the Sea Organization. She signed a contract commiting herself to the group for a billion years—covering her future lives, as the church believes people are immortal. We settled into a compound with other families. The year was 1986. I remember it as the year I lost my freedom.

I imagine that Katie Holmes is trying to protect her daughter, Suri, from the rigid world of Scientology now, and I applaud Katie for that. I wish my mother had done the same.


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Astra Woodcraft in her Cadet uniform as a child in the Sea Org, with her mother. (Courtesy of Astra Woodcraft)

A Battle Looms

What’s Katie’s Next Move?

Ex-Scientologists speak out on what Katie Holmes can expect from the church as she tries to divorce Tom Cruise. By Mark Ebner.

In the 1993 legal thriller The Firm, Tom Cruise plays a junior member of a prestigious Memphis law firm that’s secretly steeped in corruption. After a midnight tryst on the beach during a weekend junket to the Cayman Islands, Cruise’s character, Mitch, is confronted by Wilford Brimley at his most unctuous, playing the firm’s enforcer, who shows him surveillance photos of his dalliance that could wreck his marriage.

2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes at the Vanity Fair Oscar party last February (Evan Agostini / AP Photo)

“That’s just the kind of stuff the FBI could use for coercion, Mitch,” says the Brimley character. “So you watch yourself. I’ll do my best to protect you, and I know you’ll do your best to protect the firm.”

With a few key words changed, that’s as succinct a description of Scientology and its powerful hold over its credulous practitioners as one could hope for. Through its doctrinal “auditing” process, the church learns everything it possibly can about new members, filing the most damaging bits away as leverage, which it deems a form of protection. Routine sec-checks, i.e., security checking, are performed on children as young as 6.

As the couple divorces, their views on the church’s tenets could take center stage as they determine their daughter’s religious future, reports Matt DeLuca—and possibly lead to a heated custody battle.

From the moment Katie Holmes’s split from Tom Cruise became public, celebrity watchers speculated whether the Mission Impossible star’s devotion to the Church of Scientology contributed to the couple’s demise. A more pressing question might be, what role will Scientology play in their divorce?

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Katie Holmes, Suri Cruise, and Tom Cruise visit Schenley Plaza's carousel in Pittsburgh, Oct. 8, 2011. (James Devaney / WireImage)

The answer could boil down to a battle over the religious upbringing of the littlest Cruise, Suri, the couple’s 6-year-old daughter. While their prenuptial agreement will likely resolve all legal and financial issues, it won’t settle religious matters, Los Angeles divorce attorney Kelly Chang Rickert told The Daily Beast. That means the degree to which Suri remains involved in Scientology could become a source of contention as proceedings go forward.

“Prenups in California can’t govern religion or action,” Rickert said. “I actually don’t think it will be acrimonious. I think Tom Cruise has a lot of secrets to protect and he has a lot of money to protect them. I don’t think he’s going to let his private life leak into the public.”

HARD TO SHAKE

Ditching Scientology—Good Luck With That

Ex-Scientologists say the church uses blackmail and threats to keep people in the fold. Even when you manage to get out, deprogramming your brain can take years.

Leaving a highly secretive and close-knit group like Scientology might not be as easy as checking the “irreconcilable differences” box.

Since news broke that Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Tom Cruise, her husband of nearly six years, speculation has been rampant that she wants out of Scientology—and she wants to take daughter Suri with her.  

Steve Hassan, an “exit counselor” who says he’s worked with “countless” people trying to leave the Church of Scientology, says the church has a history of blackmailing members into staying within the fold by threatening to divulge intimate details they’ve shared in “auditing sessions.” These are counseling sessions in which one member coaches another to “clear,” or rid himself, of any negative forces that interfere with devotion to the church. Hassan says people he’s worked with have described the church as strong-arming “members to give up their children.”

The TomKat Divorce

Katie Holmes’s Hardball Attorney

The actress’s high-profile matrimonial lawyer, Allan E. Mayefsky, is from a firm known for demanding even splits in divorces—and his hire suggests the possibility of a nasty, epic battle, reports Christine Pelisek.

Last week, news broke that former Dawson’s Creek actress Katie Holmes filed for divorce from mega-celebrity Tom Cruise after five years of marriage. At the same time, we learned that Holmes had quickly retained top-notch counsel to take on Cruise in what could be an epic custody battle over their 6-year-old daughter, Suri.

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Actress Katie Holmes at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June (Gus Ruelas / Reuters)

Currently on Team Holmes is Allan E. Mayefsky, whose company, Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan, LLP, is considered one of the best matrimonial law firms in New York City. Holmes has also hired New Jersey divorce lawyer Jonathan Wolfe, who specializes in “complex matrimonial matters.”

Team Cruise has Dennis Wasser, the same attorney who handled the superstar’s divorce from actress Nicole Kidman.

Quiz

Katie Holmes or Joey Potter?

holmes-potter-who-said

Stuart Ramson / AP Photo

During the ‘honeymoon phase’ of her relationship with Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes often sounded like the teenager she played on ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ Can you tell Holmes’s mushy musings about love and soul mates apart from Joey Potter’s? Take our quiz.

1.
A: “One day you’re dreaming, and the next your dream has become your reality.”
B: “Sometimes dreams do come true.”

2.
A: “From the moment I met him, it just felt like I’d known him forever.”
B: “It’s a love that is pure and eternally innocent.”

3.
A: “He makes me laugh, we have fun, we understand each other, everything is so aligned.”
B: “What we’ve had is so much more incredible than just some passing physical attraction.”

4.
A: “In many ways, I feel like you’ve partially invented me.”
B: “I’m learning to celebrate my own spirit, my own being.”

MOVING ON

Holmes Spotted Without Wedding Ring

Holmes Spotted Without Wedding Ring Eric Charbonneau, WireImage / Getty Images

While filming ‘Project Runway: All Stars’.

That was fast: Katie Holmes was photographed without her wedding ring on Monday while she filmed a previously scheduled segment for Project Runway: All Stars in New York. Holmes, 33, filed divorce papers on Friday from Tom Cruise, her husband of five years. Show judge Isaac Mizrahi said Holmes did “great” during the taping, and another source said “she was engaged, articulate and wonderful!”

Read it at People

Rupert's New Feud

Why Murdoch Snipes at Scientology

If you wondered why Rupert Murdoch used the occasion of the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes split to attack Scientology, look no further than the media baron’s eldest son, Lachlan, who was once courted by the church, writes Paula Froelich.

On Sunday Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful man in media, stunned media watchers when he inserted himself into the Tom Cruise–Katie Holmes divorce fray by attacking Cruise’s beloved religion.

Tweeting first, “Scientology back in news. Very weird cult, but big, big money involved with Tom Cruise either No. 2 or 3 in hierarchy,” and then, “Watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop. Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people,” the News Corp. CEO waded into the morass and basically declared himself Scientology Enemy No. 1.

Many were shocked—why the hell would Rupert Murdoch, of all people, get involved in this? But a close Murdoch ally noted, “He has a long memory and no love for Scientology.”

The controversial religion, after all, once went after his eldest son Lachlan—using Tom Cruise and Lachlan’s close pal James Packer to try and recruit the Murdoch scion to its cause.

TomKat

Connor and Isabella Cruise

After Tom and Nicole split, their adopted kids, Connor and Isabella, sided with dad. Chris Lee reports on what tore the family apart—and how they could impact the custody battle for Suri.

When Tom Cruise blindsided Nicole Kidman with divorce papers in 2001—just three days shy of the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary and while she was unknowingly pregnant with his child—the movie icon didn’t simply throw one of Hollywood’s most superficially idyllic marriages under the bus. With his citation of “irreconcilable differences” and calculating sangfroid, Cruise also effectively terminated another union: between his adopted children, Isabella and Connor, and the only source of maternal love they had ever known.

John Avlon and Raoul Felder discuss the possibilities in the Tom Cruise / Katie Holmes divorce.

Although Kidman and Cruise’s custody arrangement was never made public, their split effectively tore bonds between mother and young apart; the kids remained in Los Angeles to live in Cruise’s mansion, and the actress returned to her native Australia and there they stayed. Isabella said in a recent interview that she and Connor see Kidman, at best, “sometimes.” According to Kidman, the children continued to keep their distance from her into their late teens, even after the Hemingway & GellHorn star remarried country music hitmaker Keith Urban in 2006 and relocated part-time to Nashville. “They live with Tom, which was their choice,” Kidman told Hello! magazine in 2010. “I’d love them to live with us, but what can you do?”

Katie Holmes may well be asking herself that very question right now. Just days after splitting with Cruise, and on the heels of widespread reports she fled the marriage fearing how the star’s deep ties to the Church of Scientology would impact their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, Holmes is seeking sole legal custody and “primary residential custody” of their child. She has begun laying the legal groundwork for a knock-down-drag-out custody battle by filing for divorce in New York, where comparative-fault laws offer her a legal advantage—presumably to ensure she avoids precisely the kind of empty-nest syndrome that Kidman suffered in the past.

Cruise-Holmes Drama

Doomed From the Start?

Beset by rumors since their April 2005 debut as a couple, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes seemed destined to split. From Suri to Scientology and free-falling career prospects, Marlow Stern on what drove them apart.

“I think every little girl dreams about [her wedding]…I used to think I was going to marry Tom Cruise.”

Katie Holmes shared these sentiments to Seventeen magazine back in October 2004. Six months after this public confession, Holmes began dating Cruise, and six months after that the couple revealed they were expecting their first child together.

Last Friday, news broke that the celebrity couple’s five-year marriage had come to an end, with Holmes filing for divorce from the Rock of Ages star on June 28 in New York, just five days shy of his 50th birthday, and requesting sole legal custody and “primary residential custody” of the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Suri, reported TMZ. The website reported that Cruise was “blindsided” by the news; he released a statement shortly after through his representative, saying, “Kate has filed for divorce and Tom is deeply saddened and is concentrating on his three children.”

The union of Cruise, 49, and Holmes, 33, however, seemed doomed from the start.

TOMKAT

Scientology Denies Following Holmes

Scientology Denies Following Holmes Eric Charbonneau, WireImage / Getty Images

After reports of of church tailing her

The Church of Scientology denied on Sunday reports that they are following Katie Holmes after she filed divorce papers from Tom Cruise. Gary Soter, a lawyer for the Church, contacted TMZ to deny the allegations and say it is not conducting surveillance on the star. Scientology is also reportedly the reason behind their split, and defectors of the religion have previously reported being “hunted down” after leaving. TMZ reported that photographers who have been following Holmes have reported several “mysterious men” and vehicles around Holmes’s New York apartment. Meanwhile, Cruise was sighted in a helicopter flying over Iceland on Sunday—the first time he’s been seen in public since the divorce announcement on Friday.

Read it at TMZ

OPINIONATOR

Murdoch: Scientology ‘Evil’ and ‘Creepy’

Murdoch: Scientology ‘Evil’ and ‘Creepy’

Weighs in on TomKat.

Nobody knows massive, shadowy, transnational money-making organizations like Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps that’s why the News Corp. mogul decided to weigh in on the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce via Twitter on Sunday. “Watch Katie Holmes & Scientology story,” Murdoch said. “Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people.” All the usual Internet backlash ensued, but Murdoch stuck to his guns, tweeting later that “since Scientology tweets hundreds of attack. Expect they will increase and get worse and maybe threatening. Still stick to my story.” Murdoch’s critiques extended to the Church of Latter-day Saints after he was spurred by another tweeter’s question, writing, “Mormonism a mystery to me, but Mormons certainly not evil.”

Read it at Los Angeles Times

The TomKat marriage has been fodder for endless tabloid rumors, from their wide age difference to Cruise jumping with joy on Oprah's couch. Now that they are divorcing, here are a few things that have been reported about the impending split of Hollywood's star couple.

The Church Is Watching Katie?

The Church of Scientology denied on Sunday reports that they are following Katie Holmes after she filed divorce papers from Tom Cruise. Gary Soter, a lawyer for the Church, contacted TMZ to deny the allegations and say it is not conducting surveillance on the star. It's not the first time the religion has dealt with these accusationgs: defectors of the religion have previously reported being “hunted down” after leaving. TMZ reported that photographers who have been following Holmes have reported several “mysterious men” and vehicles around Holmes’s New York apartment.

John Avlon and Raoul Felder discuss the possibilities in the Tom Cruise / Katie Holmes divorce.

Cruise Is Lying Low in Iceland

TOMKAT

Holmes Rented NYC Apartment

Holmes Rented NYC Apartment Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Right before filing for divorce.

A room of her own? Katie Holmes had already made new housing arrangements before filing for divorce from Tom Cruise yesterday, according to Us Weekly. Holmes reportedly rented an apartment in New York City prior to submitting papers that requested legal custody of their daughter, Suri. TMZ speculates that Holmes filed in New York because the courts are known to avoid giving feuding parents joint custody, and are more likely to grant her sole rights.

Read it at Us Weekly

All About Scientology

Scientology’s Secret Glossary

Scientology’s Secret Glossary

What’s a thetan? Who goes to the Sea Org? A cheat sheet for Scientology’s key terms.

Rupert's New Feud

Why Murdoch Snipes at Scientology

Inbox

A Scientology Insider's Bombshell

GOODBYE

My Escape From 'Sea Org'

My Escape From 'Sea Org'

Astra Woodcraft grew up in the militaristic religious order of Scientology known as the Sea Organization—until she broke free. Her story, as told to Abigail Pesta.

Is Scientology Behind the Split?

What Broke Up Tom and Katie?

What Broke Up Tom and Katie?

After five years of marriage, Katie Holmes files for divorce from Tom Cruise. Lizzie Crocker and Ramin Setoodeh on the break up.

Rupert's New Feud

Why Murdoch Snipes at Scientology

Cruise-Holmes Drama

Doomed From the Start?

What Does Scientology Want? Suri Cruise

Former Page Six editor Paula Froelich joins John Avlon to discuss the planet's biggest divorce story. An intriguing subplot of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split, according to Froelich: how Scientology's leaders had hopes that Suri Cruise could one day rise in the church's ranks.