Tom Cruise Gets Visitation Rights? Why Don't We, Ask Ex-Scientologists Cut Off From Family Members
Fans of Katie Holmes are celebrating that she seemed to get just about everything she wanted in her divorce settlement with Tom Cruise -- reportedly, she's getting primary custody of Suri, and Tom will get visitation rights. And with Katie registering with a Catholic Church in Manhattan, it's a good bet that Suri will be shielded from her father's controversial religion, Scientology.
If Tom Cruise is such a loyal Scientologist, why does he get to ignore the rules?
So if Katie seems to have won, and in the process brought Scientology unprecedented bad publicity, why are some Ex-Scientologists greeting news of the divorce settlement with derision?
Because of its hypocrisy, they tell me.
With so many ex-Scientologists cut off entirely from their own children, or parents, or siblings through the church's policy of "disconnection," it's another slap in the face, they say, that Tom Cruise gets to bypass that rule and see his child and communicate freely with his ex-wife.
After the jump, we'll explain.
First, let's give Katie her due: She is, without a doubt, the biggest SP in the history of Scientology.
While L. Ron Hubbard originally figured that about two and a half percent of the world's population are "suppressive" -- antisocial types who would never be reachable by Scientology -- over the ensuing years, the church has applied the label "suppressive person" or "SP" to anyone it deems an enemy. Anyone, that is, who ditches Scientology or publicly criticizes it. And when a former church member or critical relative or uncooperative ex-wife or other potential source of bad juju and bad publicity is declared a suppressive person, they become like kryptonite to other Scientologists.
If you are a member of Scientology in good standing and want to stay that way, you cannot have anything to do with SPs. If it's learned by the church that you're working for or talking with or otherwise communicating with an SP, then you can also be declared an SP if you don't take actions to remedy the situation.
There is no more perfect definition of a suppressive person than Katie Holmes. She has taken one of Scientology's prize possessions -- her daughter Suri -- out of the church, spurned her Scientologist husband, and in the process brought more bad publicity to Scientology than it has ever had. Even the death of Lisa McPherson (1995) and the lawsuit of L. Ron Hubbard Jr. against the church (1982) did not bring this kind of sustained, multifarious entheta (negative information) from every kind of news outlet, from blogs to daily newspapers to network news. (And there's plenty more coming, take it from me. Whoa Nelly.)
Katie Holmes, there is no doubt, is the SP from hell.
And in that case, the rules are clear: Tom Cruise must disconnect from her and her devil-spawn child. He must completely cut both of them out of his life, make sure they have no way of reaching him, and even guard against communications in a roundabout way through family and friends.
That's what Tom would have to do, that is, if he were treated like the rest of the people in his church.
Visitation rights? Wow, you talk about Scientology sacrilege.
"I would like some visitation rights with my son Benjamin," former top church spokesman Mike Rinder tells me. "I tried to see him, but they called the police and issued a trespass warning against me."
"This is the double standard that gets applied," Rinder says, explaining that simply because of who Tom Cruise is, he gets a pass and doesn't have to follow the same rules that other Scientologists do. "The church always says it's simply applying policy -- but it's all total crap. The church does what is convenient and expedient. It's never what's right or what ought to be."
"Katie Holmes won't be declared a suppressive person because she's too famous," says Amy Scobee, another former executive.
"The rest of us want visitation rights with our families," says Amy, whose struggle to remain a part of her mother's life led her to speak out publicly after leaving Scientology and write her book, Abuse at the Top.
The ex-Scientology community has been buzzing about this ever since ex-member Tom DeVocht said something about it on his Facebook page.
I know so many people who can't even talk to their kids -- even worse is Karen [de la Carriere]'s situation as an example -- because the Church enforces their disconnection policy so strenuously. But Tom Cruise gets "visitation rights" to see Suri despite the fact that Katie's divorce had EVERYTHING to do with Scientology and was possible the worse blow to Scientology's PR yet.
I immediately thought of some of the worst disconnection stories I'd heard.
There was Lori Hodgson, for example, whose son, Jeremy Leake, was injured seriously and was taken to a San Jose hospital -- but her family tried to keep her away from him simply because Jeremy is still in the church and Lori is not. That was sick.
"I haven't seen my kids since February, 2010, because I resigned from the Church of Scientology and spoke out publicly that I was against their policies of taking kids out of school to put them to work in the Sea Organization," she told me today. Her son and daughter, both young adults, refuse to have anything to do with her as they follow the church's policy.
"I don't get any visitation rights at all. And the church has made up lies about me. They tell my kids I've had a psychotic break. This is what they do to all of the ex-Scientologists," she says. "My kids are just afraid."
I thought also of Derek Bloch, whose father first threatened to disown him when it turned out he was gay and got kicked out of the Sea Org for it. Then, when Derek dared to write an anonymous Internet post detailing his difficulty growing up in the church -- and his sincere desire not to harm his parents with his doubts -- the church's operatives ID'd him from the post, notified his parents, and they promptly kicked him out of their house. Despite that treatment, Derek tells me he still sincerely wants to be a part of his parents' lives, but they are following the church's disconnection policy to the letter.
Derek gets no visitation rights.
And maybe the most heartbreaking recent case of disconnection is that of Karen de la Carriere. Two years ago, she dared to speak out, criticizing the treatment of Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, who has not been seen in public since about 2004. Karen says her son, Alexander, was forced to disconnect from her. And now, two years later, her 27-year-old son is dead -- the church even prevented her from seeing him before he was cremated, and is refusing to hold a memorial service.
I asked Karen if she would have wanted visitation rights with her son over the past two years.
"Oh my god, yes. If I'd had visitation rights he'd still be alive," she told me.
There are so many more unconscionable examples of disconnection. I'm going to add links to them as I have time this afternoon. But in the comments, please, tell us who you would like to have visitation rights to see, just like Tom Cruise has to see his daughter.
-- Still doubt that disconnection in Scientology exists? Last August we published a recording made secretly that captures church executive Tommy Davis trying to intimidate a young, powerless church member into quitting his job working for an SP or lose all contact with his family.
-- When Placido Domingo Jr, son of the famous tenor, was told he had to disconnect from his ex-wife, Sam Domingo, even though the two were still friendly and helping each other raise their three kids, he refused. Damaging, private information that he had only revealed in supposedly confidential counseling sessions then suddenly showed up on anonymous attack websites. Disgusted, Placido Jr. quit the church.
-- A stunning example of betrayal: Scientology's Australian spokeswoman goes on TV to say that "disconnection" doesn't exist, but doesn't mention that she'd shunned her own father for 23 years.
-- Jeremy Powers joined the Sea Org at 12 and then again at 15. Now he's 20, and the rest of his family just wishes they could see him -- and not suffer the intimidation attempts of church goons.
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad
Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.