The Church of Scientology head’s niece has warned Katie Holmes that the organisation is “no place for an innocent child” like her daughter Suri.
Jenna Miscavige Hill, 28, whose uncle is church leader David Miscavige, became the latest former member to condemn the group, which is supported by Holmes’ estranged husband Tom Cruise.
She left in 2005 after receiving what she called a “lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labour, long hours, forced confessions and mental anguish.”
Miscavige Hill said Holmes would need fortitude to take on the church, which had “experts in twisting the truth and intimidation tactics.”
“My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive,” the Telegraph quoted her as saying.
“As a mother myself, I offer my support to Katie and wish for her all of the strength she will need to do what is best for her and her daughter,” she said.
Cruise, 50, and Holmes, 33, have now cut off all direct contact with each other following her decision to file for divorce, and custody of Suri, in New York on June 28.
Cruise, Hollywood’s most bankable star, has hired high profile celebrity divorce lawyer Dennis Wasser, who also handled his split from Nicole Kidman in 2001.
Meanwhile, the Church of Scientology, which has always fiercely tried to guard its public image, faced a flurry of further potentially damaging claims, including reports that members of Miscavige’s own family had left its secretive International Base in California in recent months.
There was also renewed interest in the whereabouts of his wife Shelly with an anti-Scientology group claiming she was missing.
But the church issued a statement saying she was “not missing” and the claim was “utterly ridiculous and unfounded.”
If she was raised a Scientologist, then Suri would face being “audited” with an “e-meter,” which measures responses to questions such as “Have you ever lied to a teacher?” and “Have you ever gotten yourself dirty on purpose?”
She could also face joining the subgroup Sea Org, in which the most dedicated Scientologists sign a billion-year pledge of allegiance and wear maritime-style uniforms.
Holmes, who was raised a Catholic, is now believed to have enrolled her daughter in a Catholic school on the US east coast.
The actress was photographed laughing and smiling as she took Suri for ice cream, and pushing her around a New York supermarket in a trolley.
When approached by the New York Daily News, she said: “I’m alright, thank you.”
Marty Rathbun, who was Cruise’s auditor before leaving the Church of Scientology in 2004, said: “Katie could blow Scientology wide open. 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.”
The church has dismissed critical former members as “excommunicated self-promoters” who “cannot be believed.”