Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Split Spotlights Scientology Divorce Rituals

PHOTO: Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise appear at separate times on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.
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The divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, both bold-faced names and members of the Church of Scientology, shines a light on one aspect of their religion.

For many of the world's religions, the rituals surrounding divorce are as structured as those governing marriage. Jews seeking a divorce must sign a ritual contract. Mormons married in the temple must undergo a "sealing cancellation." In some Muslim sects, witnesses must be present for a divorce, and in others a husband recites a formula of denunciation three times to end a marriage.

The Church of Scientology, however, is much clearer on the rituals and practices of marriage than it is on divorce, according to experts and the church's own official website.

Rather than focus on divorce, the church concentrates on improving couples' relationships through therapy.

"Church members believe that tension in a marriage comes from 'overts' and 'withholds,' unstated, undiscussed issues or problems," said Stephen Kent, a religion professor at the University of Alberta.

"Communication is therefore a good way to rebuild a marriage that's crumbling. Couples can take a course called How to 'Improve Your Marriage' and in dire situations auditors, or counselors, can lead couples through exercises," he said.

"There's no real annulment in the church. Many members have been divorced, even founder L. Ron Hubbard was married three times," Kent said.

The church does not allow members to have contact with disconnected, or excommunicated members of the faith, making divorce inevitable sometimes when one spouse wants to continue in the faith and another wants to leave the church, according to Kent.

"If one person wants to stay in church, he can't have contact with someone who holds doubts or criticism of the group. The doubter is called a PTS, potential trouble source."

Cruise has been divorced twice already. He was previously married to actress Nicole Kidman and Mimi Rogers, an actress who became a professional poker player. Cruise and Holmes, who have been married for five years, have one daughter together, 5-year-old Suri.

Representatives for Cruise and Holmes would not comment specifically for this story.

"This is a personal and private matter for Katie and her family," Holmes' publicist said in a statement. "Katie's primary concern remains, as it always has been, her daughter's best interest."

"Kate has filed for divorce and Tom is deeply saddened and is concentrating on his three children," Cruise's publicist said in a statement. "Please allow them their privacy to work this out."

Cruise and Holmes were married in a Scientology ceremony in 2006 in France.

''They make a vow to each other that they won't go to sleep at night without having repaired any upset they may have had during the day,'' spokeswoman Karin Pouw told Reuters at the time of the couple's nuptials.

According to the church website "wedding ceremonies are performed by a Scientology minister with similar protocol to weddings in other churches: the bridal procession, the traditional role of the parents of the bride, best man, matron or maid of honor and the traditional seating of respective families and friends."

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