The divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes is rapidly becoming the biggest tabloid story of the year, and fingers are pointing at the controversial Church of Scientology as the primary cause of their breakup.
Holmes, who initiated the divorce proceedings, is reportedly eager to prevent their 6-year-old daughter Suri from being indoctrinated in her father’s strict religious beliefs.
According to TMZ, Holmes feared that Cruise was planning on sending Suri to join the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization (Sea Org), which functions almost as a religious order within the church; former members have described it as embodying an “odd mixture of military and corporate management styles.”
The majority of Sea Org’s membership is purportedly longtime members of the church and children of Scientologists. Kids as young as 5 can be sent to join the group to learn more about the religion without being accompanied by their parents.
All members of Sea Org are reportedly required to sign a billion-year contract to demonstrate their commitment to the organization. (Sea Org was a particular focus of journalist Lawrence Wright’s epic article on Scientology in the New Yorker in 2011, in which Hollywood director and former Scientologist Paul Haggis famously said, “I was in a cult for 34 years.”)
Scientology wasn’t the only issue of faith that caused problems for the family; Holmes’ devoutly Catholic parents often clashed with her husband, particularly where their granddaughter was concerned. But Holmes is now reportedly seeking sole legal custody of Suri to prevent her from being sent to Sea Org and to remove her from her current school, the New Village Leadership Academy in California, which has strong ties to the Church of Scientology.
Holmes is filing for divorce in New York, where judges tend to favor appointing sole custody to one parent, to avoid placing children in the middle of disputes. Cruise, meanwhile, is fighting to move proceedings to California, where courts prefer to give divorcing parents joint custody of their children.
TMZ has also reported that Holmes worries she’s being followed by representatives of Scientology, including the “mysterious” occupants of a white Cadillac Escalade and a black Mercedes SUV seen parked close to her apartment. In an e-mail to the New York Daily News, Gary Soter, a lawyer for the Church of Scientology International, said, “There is no truth whatsoever to the TMZ.com report (or any other report) that the Church of Scientology has sent anyone to follow or surveil Katie Holmes.”
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And News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch has come out against Scientology:
An hour later, he tweeted:
The announcement of Cruise and Holmes’ divorce brings a sudden end to one of Hollywood’s most publicized celebrity couples. Nicknamed TomKat, they married in a grand ceremony in Lake Bracciano, Italy, in November 2006, following a whirlwind romance. In 2005 Cruise famously jumped on the couch of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, seemingly unable to contain his excitement over his relationship with Holmes.
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Their divorce marks the dissolution of Cruise’s third marriage. His three-year marriage to actress Mimi Rogers, who introduced him to Scientology, ended in 1990. He married actress Nicole Kidman later in 1990; the couple divorced in 2001.
In a milestone, Cruise turns 50 on Tuesday. He will mark the day in Iceland on the set of his upcoming film Oblivion.