See ya, Tom: Packer quits Cruise's church
Sydney Morning Herald
May 10, 2008
THE Church of Scientology has lost its grip on James Packer.
The billionaire's closest friends have revealed that he has quietly distanced himself from Scientology, labelled a cult by some former members, as it faces international controversy about its anti-psychiatry stance.
Members of Mr Packer's inner circle have confirmed that the billionaire, who had ranked as Scientology's wealthiest member in the world, was no longer undertaking Scientology courses and had slowly moved away from the religion, telling his closest friends he no longer "needs it".
His office did not respond to the Herald's calls yesterday.
Mr Packer was introduced to Scientology by his friend Tom Cruise in 2002. Friends say they remain close. They were most recently photographed dining together with their wives in Germany.
The religion entered Mr Packer's realm at one of the lowest points in his personal and business life. He was overweight and depressed, his marriage to his first wife, Jodhi Meares, had ended and he was reeling from the humiliating and very public collapse of One.Tel, losing $350 million from the family business on the way.
He has spoken publicly of his involvement in the religion only once, telling The Australian Financial Review Magazine in 2006 that he spent an hour or so "every couple of days" practising Scientology. "I think it has been very good for me," he said. "It has been helpful. I have some friends in Scientology that have been very supportive. But I think it's just helped me have a better outlook on life."
Thanks to his Hollywood confidant Cruise, Mr Packer and his fortune were embraced at Scientology's highest levels.
A video from 2004 shows Mr Packer in the front row with the world's most senior Scientologist at a convention in Los Angeles at which Tom Cruise was awarded a large medal before a roaring crowd.
However, Scientology caused discomfort within Mr Packer's old circle of Sydney friends. When his lifelong friend David Gyngell quit Channel Nine in May 2005, it was Mr Packer who called in Scientologists to counsel the TV executive.
Out of respect for his friend, Mr Gyngell listened to them but politely said he did not need their help. In a blaze of negative publicity, he left the network his father, Bruce, had launched. Mr Gyngell has since returned to Nine and resumed his friendship with Mr Packer.
However, observers suggest Mr Packer's expanding casino empire has presented issues difficult to reconcile with Scientologist beliefs.
Scientology's founder, the science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, denounced gambling. "An obsessive gambler is a psychotic just like a drug addict or an alcoholic," Hubbard wrote in 1977
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