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As more details are coming out about the breakup of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' marriage, there's one big unanswered question: What's Scientology got to do with it? Tom, 50, is a devotee of the controversial church, which is often accused of having a manipulative, cult-like influence over its members. Though Cruise's lawyers deny that his religion factored into their divorce settlement, the persistent rumor is that Katie, 33, wants to keep Scientology out of 6-year-old daughter Suri's life. Now, a former church official is speaking out about the role Scientology played in Cruise's previous divorce from Nicole Kidman -- and if he's telling the truth, then Katie is right to be worried.
Marty Rathbun was a member of Scientology's elite Sea Organization for 27 years. He was also in charge of personally "auditing" Tom Cruise (a kind of spiritual counseling) during his 2001 divorce proceedings. On an episode of Rock Center with Brian Williams airing Thursday night, Rathbun (who left the church in 2004) claims that the Church of Scientology was responsible for turning Cruise's older children, Isabella and Connor, against their own mother. Watch a clip below.
"[Cruise] and I were intensively at it, you know, auditing several hours a day over several months," Rathbun explains. While the auditing sessions were taking place, the children were being supervised and tutored at the Scientology Celebrity Center, then reporting to Tom afterward. And Rathbun claims that they were being taught some disturbing things.
"The initial indoctrination of Connor and Bella -- Connor was 6 years old, Bella was 9 -- was teaching them that certain people are anti-social personalities, they're suppressive people," said Rathbun, "like their own mother."
A "suppressive person," in Scientology jargon, is an anti-social individual who likes to undermine the people around them. Scientologists are ordered to cut ties with such people, especially if they're critical of the religion.
"That person could be your son, it could be your daughter, it could be your father, it could be your mother. It doesn't matter," Rathbun explained.
As for Isabella and Connor, who are now 19 and 17 years old, Rathbun believes they were being taught to identify Kidman as a suppressive person.
"It was more than implied... [Kidman] was somebody that they shouldn't open up with, they shouldn't communicate with and they shouldn't spend much time with," he said.
If Rathbun's recollection is true, then it may explain why Katie Holmes was in such a hurry to distance her daughter from Cruise. Suri, after all, is 6 years old -- the same age Isabella was when Rathbun says she was "indoctrinated" against her mother. The divorce settlement is confidential, but according to a TMZ source, there's a clause forbidding Suri to receive any religious instruction until she gets older.
Both the Church of Scientology and Cruise's divorce attorney have denied Rathbun's story. The church claims that Rathbun is a bitter, excommunicated Scientologist who is "shamelessly" exploiting Cruise's personal life for his own gain. The church has published a take-down of Rathbun in their online publication, Freedom magazine.
Meanwhile, Rathbun continues to tell his side of the story on his Wordpress blog, which is dedicated to "exposing" Scientology -- and for what it's worth, had some pretty accurate predictions about TomKat's divorce proceedings.
Rathbun's full Rock Center with Brian Williams interview airs Thursday, July 12, at 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT on NBC.