Katie Holmes was spotted in New York on Monday without her wedding ring after filing for divorce from fellow actor Tom Cruise.
The 33-year-old Hollywood star left a shoot for the television series Project Runway in Times Square, her hair pulled back conservatively in a sleek pony tail and wearing a navy ensemble. Throngs of television satellite trucks and paparazzi were camped outside the Manhattan building where she was staying.
Cruise is spending his birthday Tuesday shooting a film in Iceland - without his significant other. Friends have told how he was ‘totally devastated and heartbroken’ by the marriage split.
Meanwhile The Church of Scientology, the controversial religion followed by Cruise, denied Monday sending anyone to follow Holmes, amid reports she feared her husband’s plans for their daughter.
A lawyer for the church also dismissed reports that Cruise - a prominent Scientologist - wanted their six-year-old daughter Suri to join the Sea Organization, described as a boot camp for the controversial.
“There is no truth whatsoever to the TMZ.com report (or any other report) that the Church of Scientology has sent anyone to follow or surveil Katie Holmes,” lawyer Gary Soter told AFP in an emailed letter.
“The allegation about a 6-year-old joining the Sea Org is similarly untrue,” added Soter, who described himself as counsel for the Church of Scientology International.
Celebrity news website TMZ reported that Holmes, who announced on Friday that she was filing for divorce, feared that he wanted their daughter to join the Sea Org in the near future.
But it cited the Scientologists’ lawyer as saying nobody under the age of 16 can join the elite body, adding that minors must have the “consent of both parents and/or all legal guardians” to become members. Several ex-Scientologists, including Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, have been outspoken against the Sea Org’s military-like conditions. According to the official Scientology website, members of the Sea Org sign “a one-billion-year pledge to symbolise their eternal commitment to the religion”, reported the UK’s Daily Mail.
TMZ also cited sources close to Holmes as saying she believes the Church of Scientology views her as a threat to the organization, and has put a team on her tail, with “mysterious” men and vehicles tailing her in recent weeks.
Holmes has now moved out of the flat she shared with Cruise in Manhattan and into a new property in the city with her daughter. The three-bedroom apartment costs between Dh36,000 and Dh43,000 a month to rent.
The church is expected to be a strong adversary in her legal fight for sole custody of Suri, experts said on Monday.
While Holmes, Cruise and representatives for both have remained quiet about the reasons for the high-profile split, speculation in the media is that Suri, now at the age when she begins a formal education, and the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a key member, are central to the break-up.
“What’s interesting is that there’s three players in this case — the mother, the father and this very controversial concept of Scientology,” said New York-based divorce lawyer Lubov Stark.
“The daughter is in the middle of this whole divorce. She seems to have been raised in Scientology up to this age, so if the judge comes in and gives custody to Katie Holmes, she can change [Suri’s] religion,” Stark said.
The Church of Scientology was founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and it describes its practices as a religion. The organisation believes man is an immortal being whose experience extends beyond one lifetime, and it has attracted followers including Cruise and John Travolta.
But some observers — including media mogul Rupert Murdoch — liken it to a cult. Critics think the group coerces followers to think like they do, and they accuse Scientologists of harassing people who seek to quit.
On Sunday, following last week’s news of Holmes’ divorce filing, Murdoch took to Twitter and called Scientology “a very weird cult” and Scientologists “creepy, maybe even evil”.
SCIENTOLOGY AND THE MEDIA
“Scientology is a potentially unsafe, if not dangerous, organisation,” said Rick Ross, a New Jersey-based expert on cults and controversial movements who has served as an expert witness in court cases.
“I’ve received complaint after complaint over the years from former members.”
Ross said Holmes’ custody battle could hinge on whether Cruise decides to fight Holmes for custody of Suri and how much information comes out about Scientology practices, which the Church may not find in its interest.
Representatives for the Church did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
Ross said it is unlikely the Church would get directly involved in the custody battle as it could bring negative publicity, but he believed members could leak information to “intimidate or discredit” Holmes.
Lawyer Stark said custody proceedings will differ substantially depending on whether they take place in New York, where Holmes filed, or California if Cruise can get the case moved to the state in which he resides.
In California, Stark said the courts presume joint custody, leading to a greater likelihood a judge would give both Holmes and Cruise the ability to make decisions for Suri.
“If the judge says they should have joint custody in California, then Katie would not have the ability to take Suri out of this religion altogether,” said Stark.
In New York, the courts look at the best interests of a child and who’s going to make decisions and care for the youngster. In that case, a judge might be asked to consider Cruise’s religion, although the possibility appears remote.
“Religion can always come into it, but it’s rare for a custody battle,” said Josh Forman, a matrimonial attorney and partner at Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert in New York.
Like Ross, Forman believed any negative publicity from a long trial might lead to a private settlement.
“I don’t think it would be very good for Tom’s career if he is seen as having a huge, dragged-out custody battle with Katie. I think they should really settle, and I see this as settling.”