Katie Holmes 'Biggest Nightmare' in Scientology History, Say Experts

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Using L. Ron Hubbard's "attack, don't defend" strategy, Holmes even fired Tom Cruise's older daughter weeks before filing for divorce; opposite tack from Nicole Kidman.

"By filing for sole custody of Suri, she’s making it very clear she’s not going to let what happened with Nicole Kidman happen to her," says De La Carriere.

Holmes has the advantage of going up against an organization that has been significantly weakened during the past decade, as an increasing number of high-level Scientologists such as Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder have defected. Together, Rathbun and Rinder were considered the second- and third-most powerful church officials under Miscavige and took care of troublesome legal and media issues, among them Cruise’s divorce from Kidman. The pair have been described as one of the church’s most effective weapons by ex-Scientologists and in many media accounts.

"They don’t have the resources or the people to help them attack the way they used to because so many key people have blown," says Amy Scobee, whose mother signed her over to Scientology when she was 15 and who went on to run the church’s Celebrity Centres before leaving in 2005 because she did not like Miscavige. Scobee also knew Cruise well and hired his household staff (who were Scientologists) when he was married to Kidman.

"Marty and Mike are irreplaceable," says Scobee. "They were tough. They understood Scientology, and they knew how to take care of business. Scientology can hire all the lawyers they want now, but they won’t hold a candle to Marty and Mike. The people Miscavige needs to help him with the Tom and Katie mess are now on the outside working against them."

In response to previous reports in The Hollywood Reporter that cited Scobee’s accounts of her experiences, the church attacked her credibility, saying she was dismissed from the church for gross malfeasance.

Hundreds of people including high-level leaders have left -- or tried to leave -- the Church of Scientology, especially in the past six to seven years, as dissatisfaction with Miscavige has intensified. Many defectors, most of whom remain loyal to Hubbard’s legacy and teachings, have accused Miscavige -- variously in the press, in books and, in the case of Headley, in a lawsuit filed in 2009 -- of being violent, of abusing adult and child labor laws at the Hemet base camp and of focusing too much on fund-raising.

Even Rupert Murdoch tweeted this week that the church was "evil" and "creepy" in a move some saw as proof that the media should no longer fear reporting about the church. Fox News' Geraldo Rivera followed the boss’ tweet with one of his own on Monday, asking, "Does Scientology have special program to provide cover for closeted gay superstars?"

Holmes has not commented yet on why she decided to file for divorce from Cruise, but the actor's camp has indicated it was Holmes’ decision. Cruise issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened."

In contrast, Kidman has said that she was the one who was shocked by Cruise’s divorce petition in 2000, though she never took to Scientology during their 10-year marriage. She told Vanity Fair in 2002 that she was so upset by Cruise dumping her that she lay "crying in the fetal position on the floor" at one point.

Unlike Kidman, who kept quiet during her divorce from Cruise and has rarely commented publicly about it since, Holmes already has made a statement of sorts by filing her petition in New York and saying she wants full legal custody and primary residential custody of their Suri.

"Katie could blow Scientology wide open," says Rathbun, who was in the church for 22 years before leaving in late 2004. Rathbun, who calls himself an "independent Scientologist" and writes a candid blog popular with former members, was Cruise’s auditor and handled Cruise’s divorce from Kidman.

"If Tom’s smart, he won’t fight her on anything, even custody. He should just try to settle his way out of it," says Rathbun. "She could press this sole-custody issue and litigate it, and that would be the biggest nightmare in the Church of Scientology’s history. It would be a circus they couldn’t survive."

When THR cited Rathbun’s experience with Scientology in a previous article, the church also attacked his credibility, focusing partly on alleged personal transgressions.

In a statement regarding the defectors who spoke on the record to THR, Gary Soter, a Calabasas, Calif.-based attorney representing the organization, said: "All of these people are ex-communicated self-promoters who are sadly exploiting a private family matter for their own personal financial gain. The Church stands by its previous statements with respect to all of them. They cannot be believed given they have acquired no firsthand knowledge of the Church for many years and have a record of making false and/or misleading statements about the Church."

Says Headley, who was once the head of film and video production for Scientology: "The church may be underestimating Katie. She knows how to play Tom, and she’s been doing it brilliantly. She knows he’s locked down up in Iceland shooting his movie and he can’t fly back to the U.S. to handle this."

Cruise was filming Oblivion in Iceland but flew back to the U.S. on Tuesday, his 50th birthday. His longtime lawyer Bert Fields did not respond to requests for comment, but it has been reported that Cruise has hired Dennis Wasser to represent him in the divorce -- the same attorney who represented him in the split from Kidman.

When asked if the church is advising Cruise in this matter, Soter responded: "The Church doesn't comment on any individual parishioner or his or her spiritual journey. This is a private matter, and it is inappropriate for comment. The Church has respected and will continue to respect the privacy of both parties during this difficult period."

Two former Scientologists who say they have a connection to both a member of the Holmes family and people still inside the church claim that Holmes’ family has been wary of Scientology from the start.

One reason for their concern might have been that it is a common Scientology practice to order members to cut off or "disconnect" from family members who disapprove of the church.

"Katie was monitored as if she lived under the Stasi," says Rathbun. "It was not quite as bad for Nicole. But that’s how it is now."

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