Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' divorce came as a surprise to some. The duo burst into a public love life with an oft-mocked appearance Cruise made on Oprah, which saw the actor hopping on couches and pumping his fists. At the time, their exchange of vows brought to light some of the norms of a Scientologist wedding.
But now their split has opened up new interest into how Scientologists handle divorce. It's an apt question, since Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard was married three times himself.
The ever-secretive Scientology tries to keep all matters of divorce in-house to reduce the chances of a divorce while ultimately striving to keep the faithful from leaving the church. That gives us more trouble than most other things all combined, Hubbard once wrote.
What emerges is a portrait of a faith (or cult, to some detractors) that selectively strives to preserve some floundering marriages by its own peculiar methods. In other instances, when keeping one member of the flock while losing another would be beneficial to the Church, divorce is actually encouraged.
Ultimately, the legal details of a formal divorce is handed to church-approved attorneys who handle the messy aftermath should good-faith efforts at resolution fail.
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That's between two individuals, just like anybody of any religion getting divorced, the Rev. Ann Pearce, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, told the New York Times. There's no ceremony recognizing divorce in the Church of Scientology.
While technically Pearce is correct in saying there is no ceremony, there are extensive ritualistic hurdles to overcome.
The church first tries to save the marriage. Couples pay to undergo extensive therapy with a chaplain, known as an auditor. The couple sits with a device known as an E-meter, which measures unexpressed thoughts.
You do it until the needle is flat, until the sign on the machine doesn't read any more thoughts, said Carmen Llywelyn, who underwent a divorce from actor and Scientologist Jason Lee. They think that once you unload all these bad things, you're going to fall madly back in love with each other.
The church's website is rather sparse when it comes to divorce, but it does cover marriage counseling in rather banal terms.
Scientology Marriage Counseling is an exact procedure for alleviating marital problems. It addresses the root of all such difficulties: transgressions against the couple's previously agreed-upon moral code that now inhibits their communication, it reads. Using these techniques, Chaplains and other Scientology ministers have successfully salvaged thousands of marriages.
In some cases, the church actually encourages a split, as it did with Claire Headley. The Scientologist from birth was having a crisis of faith after a dozen years of marriage to her husband Marc Headley. She told the Times the church encouraged her to divorce Marc, but she instead left the church.
At the last minute I was wavering on whether I should just divorce Marc, she said, before ultimately picking her husband over Hubbard's faith. She and Marc are now suing the church.
Scientology denies such accounts, swearing it has never encouraged a marriage's end.
The church is aware that a handful of disaffected and excommunicated members have made false and/or misleading statements about the church and their experiences within the church, lawyer and spokesman Gary Soter told the Times.
But the Church of Scientology has a long history of efficient and ruthless public relations work, and some members are promising the same if Holmes or anyone else decides to disparage Scientology or Cruise after their divorce is finalized.
Early reports state Holmes became worried about the influence Cruise's faith was having on their 6-year-old Suri, prompting an in-house promise to fight back sent on Thursday via email.
When people start to bring our religion into the middle and a bunch of uninformed people start to spread false datum, rumors and defame our religion it became a matter that does affect my Dynamics and I believe that affects yours as well, Scientologist Daniele Lattanzi wrote in an email obtained by the New York Daily News. I am not somebody that I am going to simply stand and watch a bunch of uninformed people putting my religion under the carpet.