Tom foolery or new faith: James won’t say

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), Nov. 26, 2002
http://www.smh.com.au/
By Valerie Lawson

The son of Australia’s richest man is a prize catch for the Church of Scientology. Rich, famous and friends with the church’s star disciple, Tom Cruise, James Packer is just the kind of recruit the church loves to welcome in one of its “celebrity centres” around the world.

Yesterday, Mr Packer said he had “no comment whatsoever” on a weekend press report that he had been taking instruction in the Church of Scientology, and had been seen at the church’s Dundas campus.

A church spokeswoman said staff were trained at the campus, and lived on site. There was a church there for staff, but no facilities to train a member of the public, she said.

The Church of Scientology has always targeted movie stars and the rich through its “celebrity centres”. Mr Packer’s friend Cruise is a key member of the Los Angeles Celebrity Centre, a former Hollywood hotel which resembles a Disneyland castle.

There are 11 other celebrity centres around the world, including those in New York, Nashville, Las Vegas, Paris, London and Vienna.

Mr Packer has been friendly with Cruise since 2001. The two men spent time together at the actor’s home in Colorado, and Mr Packer attended Cruise’s 40th birthday party last June. That was the same month he announced his split from his former wife, Jodhi.

In a newspaper interview after the break-up, he said that he admired Cruise “enormously – the way he behaves, his humility, his values, his decency”.

It is understood the cost of a course at the Los Angeles centre is $US376,000 ($667,000). This is a petty amount to celebrity adherents such as Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Lisa Marie Presley.

Cruise reportedly donates more than $US2million a year to the church.

In August, he told a church graduation ceremony in California that he would do everything he could to expand Scientology.

In the church’s jargon, he is an “OT V”, meaning he has reached the fifth of eight OT levels. OT stands for “operating thetan” and “thetan” means soul. OTs are supposed to be able to read people’s thoughts and travel outside their bodies.

But before a member studies for these upper levels, there are hefty fees to pay while he or she masters the basics, moving from “pre-clear” status to “clear”.

Cruise has described Scientology as “an applied religious philosophy that you use in your life to help you … It’s something that helps an individual find out who you are”.

Reports of Mr Packer’s conversion to Scientology have been circulating in Sydney at the same time as rumours that he is planning to move to California, just like his uncle, the late Clyde Packer, who moved to California in 1976. Mr Packer did not respond to an inquiry by the Herald about any such move.

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