NEW YORK, Feb. 7 -- Superstar Scientologist Tom Cruise tried desperately to save his marriage to Nicole Kidman by undergoing bizarre and grueling counseling with a senior Hollywood member of the church, insiders say. But there was nothing Scientology could do to solve the central issue between the two. Kidman, 34, is disenchanted with the controversial religion and wants their two children raised as Catholics. Sources familiar with Scientology said Monday's announcement that Hollywood's "marriage made in heaven" had come to an end sent shock waves through its substantial celebrity membership. Marriage is held as sacred in Scientology, and it is a matter of dogma that any marriage can be saved. "Marriage is central," said Janet Reed, a former member of the Church of Scientology. "Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote in one of his books that a man who destroys marriage destroys civilization. He believed that all marriages can be put back together. "So Tom, like anyone else in Scientology, would be under a lot of peer pressure to solve his issues with his wife." Marriage counseling in Scientology is a labyrinthine and intrusive affair. Members give themselves and their partners written citations for infractions. Acts that damage the relationship are known as "overts," and passive behavior that causes conflict in the relationship are known as "withholds." If the counseling does not change the couple's behavior toward each other, the written records of the "overts" and "withholds" may be sent to an "auditor" or counselor who will analyze them with the couple. "The goal is to reduce the number of arguments, or as they call them 'ARC breaks' between the couple," said another Scientology insider. An ARC break - Affinity, Reality and Communication break - is a total relationship breakdown. "A couple's compatibility is often judged by what is called the 'communication lag.' A communication lag is basically how long someone thinks before answering a question.
"Someone who answers quickly and someone who doesn't are judged to be incompatible and there is an effort to get the slower one to speed up. "Sometimes couples are given security checks. They will have to answer intimate questions about their sex lives while holding a device called an e-meter. The auditor judges the frankness of the answers by how the needle on the device floats. It can get very bizarre." But no amount of counseling could resolve the fact that Kidman did not want the couple's adopted children, Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6, to be raised as Scientologists. According to MSNBC's Jeanette Walls, Nicole had indicated to friends that she was not as dedicated to Scientology as her husband and that raising the children in Scientology had become "a major issue." Glimpses of her growing distance from the religion have surfaced in a number of interviews. In an interview with Newsweek in 1998, she said of her spiritual life: "There's a little Buddhism, a little Scientology. I was raised Catholic, and a big part of me is still a Catholic girl." She repeated the same sentiment in a BBC Radio interview when asked whether Scientology would help her if she were stranded on an island. "No," Kidman replied. "Catholicism will keep me going. I'm a Catholic girl. It will always stay with you." As news of the separation reached Australia, her homeland, the fate of the Cruise kids became a national political issue when former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer demanded to know what would happen to them. "Up until now, this appeared to be a good marriage role model from Hollywood and they are few and far between," Fischer said. "What is particularly sad is that the statement, I am advised, made no reference to the children.

"How selfish is Hollywood that a string of agents and lawyers forgot to put in even one paragraph to cover designer adoption?"

The separation also came as a shock to the Hollywood entertainment community but, sources say, the signs of a problem were evident in recent unusual behavior. At the Golden Globes two weeks ago, they arrived separately and sat at separate tables. They also opted not to take the red carpet walk together that has brought them so much attention from photographers. Reporters noticed Kidman appeared uncomfortable at the awards show. The couple's spokeswoman, Pat Kingsley, said the rift in the relationship was caused by their divergent careers and long separations caused by filming commitments. Her statement would appear to contradict statements made by Kidman last year to the effect that they had never been apart for more than two weeks. Even so, the marriage also has been dogged by rumors and speculation. When "Eyes Wide Shut," a film driven by eroticism, was released, critics thought the couple's love scenes didn't have enough electricity to power a flashlight - in contrast to the frenetic coupling between Kidman and Alec Baldwin in "Malice." Cruise, 38, has been quick to pounce on defamatory stories because, he says, they expose his children to ridicule. He successfully sued the London Daily Express and a German magazine for suggesting his marriage was one of convenience and insinuating he was gay. He also sued Star magazine for claiming he and Kidman had used sex therapists to help them shoot the love scenes in "Eyes." The whereabouts of Kidman and the Cruise children yesterday was unclear. Cruise is in Los Angeles working on the movie "Vanilla Sky." His children were with him last month when he was seen playing with them in a park. Kidman has pulled out of her latest movie, "The Panic Room." Columbia Pictures said she had suffered a recurrence of a knee injury two weeks into shooting. A similar injury forced her to temporarily suspend shooting of "Moulin Rouge" last year.

Connor and Isabella go to elite private schools in Sydney, Australia. Australian newspapers reported they were not in class yesterday but are expected to return soon.

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