John Duignan likes to joke about his experiences. “I did 22 years. You’d be out of jail quicker for murder.” Duignan was a member of the Church of Scientology.
Having joined the group in 1985, he moved up the ranks until he was promoted to membership of the Sea Organisation, the management arm. Duignan was to spend the next two decades in Scientology’s grip before finally leaving in 2007. He has written a book, The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology, which recounts his experiences.
In 1972, Duignan’s father committed suicide, leaving his Irish wife with six young children. Less than two years later, she was also dead, having suffered an asthma attack at their home in Scotland. Duignan was sent to live with relatives in Cork. Feeling dislocated, he joined a touring Christianity group before going to Germany in search of work. It was in Stuttgart that he was introduced to Scientology. “I was stopped in the street by an attractive woman and asked if I wanted to do a test. Within two weeks, I was sure L Ron Hubbard [Scientology founder] was right about everything.”
Duignan dedicated himself to Scientology. Paid around 20 a week, he worked from 9am to 11pm trying to recruit new members as well as raising money for the organisation. “Scientology is not a church — it’s a money-making institution. Money is all it cares about.”
It was this realisation and his gradual disconnection from Hubbard’s theories which proved to be the catalyst for his decision to leave. He lay low in Birmingham before returning to Cork, where he went into hiding. “There is a precedent for Scientology members to be indoctrinated into the teachings again. I was vulnerable at the time of my escape, so it was essential that I didn’t have any contact with them.”
Although Duignan managed to remain outside the influence of Scientology, he admits his path back hasn’t been easy. “There was a huge amount of anger. I fell into a deep depression and felt like killing myself at one stage. It was only after I learned to stop directing that anger at myself that I was able to make peace. I’m studying at university now, have a partner and I’m happy.”
The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology (Merlin, 12.99)