Inside a Scientology marriage - Tanja Castle tells her story
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The bombshell divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes has put Scientology back in the spotlight, with many people wondering what marriage is truly like inside the famously secretive church. One Southern California couple who spoke with Eyewitness News met, fell in love and married in the Church of Scientology.
Tanja and Stefan Castle were high-ranking insiders, devoting their lives to the church. But Tanja says she was pressured to divorce Stefan and never speak to him again -- pressure she said was so intense, she felt trapped and took extraordinary steps to leave the church and its international headquarters near Hemet in the dead of night.
Tanja Castle grew up in Scientology and joined the "Sea Org," Scientology's elite religious order, where she met and married her husband, Stefan.
"When I went into the Sea Organization, I knew I was making sacrifices and I was happy to do so," Tanja told Eyewitness News.
She spent 13 years working as executive secretary to top church leader David Miscavige, best friend and best man to Tom Cruise -- and known to be a volatile, demanding leader.
Over time, Stefan says he fell out of favor with David Miscavige.
"It basically came down to Tanja was more his secretary than she was my wife," said Stefan. "By miles."
Tanja says over the years she was pressured by church officials to "disconnect" from Stefan and end their marriage.
"Why that had to be destroyed... you don't have to destroy peoples' marriages," said Tanja.
Disconnection is the term the church uses to describe how some scientologists cut off communication with family members or friends who choose to leave the church. The church told Eyewitness News in a statement that disconnection is a "self-determined decision" and "voluntary."
"Just relentlessly, for years and years, I was being told what a bad person he was, how suppressive and how evil," said Tanja.
In 1999, Stefan was assigned to Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force (R.P.F.) for alleged financial misconduct and violations of the church's moral code -- charges he strongly denies. He was in for three years and nine months.
The church calls the R.P.F. a voluntary program of religious retreat and rehabilitation and says Stefan agreed in writing to participate. But critics and some former Scientologists say the R.P.F. is a punishment program and have compared it to a labor camp.
"Work carried on overnight," said Stefan. "For several occasions I was up for about five days straight."
"We were first discouraged, and then not allowed to communicate with each other, or see each other, or be a married couple," said Tanja.
Tanja says the still married couple defied those orders, staying in touch by cell phone. But Tanja says when David Miscavige found out in the summer of 2004, she was demoted, their cell phones were taken away and Tanja was sent to live in near-isolation in a remote corner of Scientology's sprawling International Base near Hemet.
"Somebody was watching me all the time and I got my meals brought to me by a security guard," said Tanja.
The church denies this, telling us in a statement that Tanja "lived in an apartment in town or a house rented or owned by the church on a public street and traveled to and from work every day."
"I was doing some sort of manual labor during the day," said Tanja.
But Eyewitness News spoke with four former church members who all tell us they saw Tanja living in an old trailer in the "Old Gilman House" area of the base between 2004 and 2006.
In the fall of 2004, Tanja says she couldn't take it anymore and she jumped the fence surrounding the Scientology base.
"There's razor barrier along the top," said Tanja, "but I managed to get myself over without hurting myself too much. I walked down Highway 79 -- one of the security guards saw me."
Tanja says that security guard alerted Scientology executives, two of whom she claims followed her down the highway in a van.
"She grabbed my arm," said Tanja. "I started shouting and told them to leave me alone."
But Tanja says the Scientology executives eventually convinced her to get in the van and return to the church.
"I was really concerned about getting into a situation where they would try to take me back," said Tanja.
The church says any allegation Tanja was followed is a lie.
One month later, Stefan left the church.
"They wanted to put me back on the R.P.F. and it was sort of one of those moments," said Stefan.
After Stefan left, the church offered him a $25,000 check. In return, Stefan had to sign a lengthy contract that prohibited him from ever contacting anyone in Scientology again. Stefan assumed that would include his wife, Tanja.
"There's something here, why do they want to give me $25,000? I took the check, I signed the document, we did it on video," said Stefan.
Stefan took that check and contract straight to an attorney.
"And he said, "Well look, this is actually illegal. They have your wife,'" recounts Stefan.
Stefan returned the check and cancelled the contract, hoping to reunite with Tanja. But Tanja, still in semi-isolation, says the pressure to disconnect and ultimately divorce intensified.
"Somebody sat down with me and sort of worked me over until I was feeling I had no option other than to sign divorce papers," said Tanja. "'He's a suppressive person, you don't put someone in contact with an SP, you just need to write a letter of disconnection.'"
Tanja finally did write that letter of disconnection, and in early 2005 the couple divorced.
"It's like overnight, your chest is very cold," said Stefan. "It's like a void."
A year passed and Tanja worked her way out of isolation on the base. Stefan still hoped to reconcile with Tanja, so he smuggled a cell phone into the base in a package he believed no one else would open.
"Some co-worker said to me, 'Oh you know, there's a Victoria's Secret box for you in the mail room,' and I was like -- that's odd," said Tanja. "And I found right away the letter and the phone, and it kind of confirmed he was still there, trying to get a hold of me."
"Even if you don't come now, I'll always love you," was Stefan's message.
But Tanja did want to leave. In the summer of 2006, they hatched a plan for Tanja to scale the fence again, but this time Stefan would be waiting on the other side.
"As soon as he said 'okay, now!' I took the ladder to the wall," said Tanja. "The wall is about eight or nine feet high. There was actually barbed wire stuff, security wire. I kind of just took a deep breath and jumped. All the flood lights went on. I said, 'Okay, I see you -- I'm coming.' I started running that way."
"I pulled up in a car on the highway, she got in the car," said Stefan.
"Obviously, we were overjoyed that we were back together," said Tanja. "Did this really happen? Was it really seven years we were kept apart? That's crazy, you know?"
Tanja and Stefan Castle are expecting their first child any day -- a baby girl.
scientology, eyewitness news
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