Celebrity divorce puts Scientology in spotlight

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and daughter Suri at a football match in happier times © Getty Images

Suri Cruise is the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes – one of the world’s most gossipped-about couples. But what will become of the child now her celebrity parents are getting divorced?

This weekend the gossip columns exploded with the news that Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were set for divorce. Immediately, the usual fallout from a celebrity breakup began. Bitter wrangling over enormous sums of money; spectacular revelations in the press, false or true; barbed comments from unnamed ‘friends.’

In this tale, however, there is a messy twist. The couple are battling for the custody of their daughter Suri – and emerging reports suggest that religion is the spark. Tom Cruise is a high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology, founded by highly controversial science fiction writer and self-help guru L. Ron Hubbard.

The religion starts as a form of self-help; gradually, as believers commit time and money to the Church, they are introduced to secret teachings, closely guarded by Church leaders. These are thought to include a belief in reincarnation through ancient spiritual beings called ‘Thetans,’ and a creation story involving galactic war.

However, Scientology is more than a collection of outlandish ideas. Believers are expected to give everything to the Church of Scientology: their trust, their time, their deepest secrets – and huge amounts of money.

It is a growing movement. Hundreds of thousands all around the world believe in its teachings and live by them. But some accuse Scientology of sinister and illegal practices. Top figures were once involved in organised crime; and though the Church claims to have reformed itself, suspicions remain.

Those who renounce Scientology report being followed, harassed and even kidnapped.

When Katie Holmes married Cruise, she also joined his religion. But now Holmes appears set on distancing herself from Scientology – and bringing Suri with her. She is fighting for sole custody of the child.

But Suri is approaching the usual age for initiation into Scientology, and Cruise is desperate to keep her in the Church. If he gets his way, she is expected to be sent to a boat in the middle of the ocean. Here she will undergo a strict and intensive introduction to Scientology.

The stage is set for a bitter dispute.

Cruise control

‘Suri is only six,’ cry much of the celebrity-watching press – she must be protected from these starry-eyed fanatics! If Cruise is allowed to, they say, he will indoctrinate his daughter into a bizarre and manipulative religion that she may never escape.

‘But Tom is Suri’s father!’ say Cruise’s supporters. He has a right to raise her in whatever religion he chooses. Scientology might seem strange to most people, they admit. But who are we to judge? The only people who should have a say over their child’s spiritual upbringing are the parents.

You Decide

  1. Are there any beliefs and practices that parents should not be allowed to pass onto their children?
  2. Does Scientology deserve to be taken as seriously as traditional religions, even though it is just a few decades old?

Activities

  1. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is famous for writing ‘pulp’ sci-fi books about aliens struggling for galactic supremacy. Think of a plot for a similar story, and write the opening chapter.
  2. Make a chart comparing Scientology to a traditional religion of your choice. Include categories like: beliefs about God, beliefs about marriage, beliefs about the afterlife.

Some People Say...

“No child should be brought up in any religion – they ought to decide for themselves.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Don’t divorced parents normally share custody?
Some parents decide on an arrangement for themselves. This usually means that they share rights and responsibilities over their children. Sometimes, however, a parent may decide to apply for sole custody of their children. In this case the courts make a decision based on the welfare of the child and the laws of the country.
So what is likely to happen to Suri based on US laws?
In the USA, many laws vary from state to state. Custody laws are one example of this. Katie Holmes has filed for divorce in the state of New York, where the law is weighted towards deciding on sole custody. This may have been a conscious decision from Holmes: in California, where she also could have sued, the courts are more favourable to joint custody.

Word Watch

Custody
An adult who has custody over a child must provide them with shelter and care. They also have the legal right to make certain decisions for their child, such as where they go to school. But the most direct impact custody decisions have is that they usually decide where a child will live.
L. Ron Hubbard
There are many myths about Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, but even without exaggeration his life is a spectacular story. He published an astonishing 1,084 books, more than any other author, and spent much of his life captaining a fleet of Scientologists around the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Some believe that he was mentally unsound, though Scientologists think he was a visionary genius.
Reincarnation
The belief that after death, the soul migrates to another body. Religions that believe in reincarnation include Buddhism and Hinduism.
Deepest secrets
Scientologists go through sessions in which they discuss painful and guilty parts of their past in front of a machine that they believe can measure their inner thoughts and detect lies.
Organised crime
During the 1970s, the Church of Scientology led a massive operation to infiltrate agencies of the US government, attempting to purge negative records about the religion. This was the biggest ever spying operation in the USA that was not connected to a foreign government.

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