They wanted me to tell them lurid details of my sex life – then they told me to talk to talk to an ashtray
Former members of the Irish Scientology branch tell Kim Bielenberg about experiences they had in the Tom Cruise cult
They believe mothers should be silent when they give birth, and they purify themselves by sitting in a sauna for a month. The most advanced followers of Ireland’s Church of Scientology think that human problems are caused by an intergalactic overlord called Xenu.
Scientology scriptures say he sent evil creatures down to earth by crashing them into volcanoes.
The fallout from the break-up of the marriage of the cult’s most high-profile member Tom Cruise to Katie Holmes has continued to focus unwelcome attention on the church this week.
There was more speculation that one of the reasons for the split was his wife’s wish to protect her child Suri from the cult.
The divorce could not have come at a worse time for the Dublin mission, which has suffered heavy financial losses and years of bad publicity. Latest accounts seen by the Irish Independent show a deficit of €687,000.
While its leaders remained steadfastly silent this week — refusing to answer questions on the doorstep of the mission in Middle Abbey St — ex-members are increasingly vocal.
Dubliner John McGhee spent three years in the Irish church before the psychological and financial pressures became too much.
He started off with a stress test where he was hooked up to one of the cult’s favourite tools — the Electropsychometer.
On the E-meter, members are interrogated while they are attached to electrodes. A needle supposedly moves at times of high emotion.
He also took the personality test where potential recruits are asked 200 questions including: “Do you browse through rail-way timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?”
“At first they love bomb you to get you to stay,” says John. “They are saccharine sweet.”
The first courses are cheap at around €25, but costs mount dramatically — and can reach over €30,000 per course.
“They were desperate to get money off me,” says John. “At one stage they actually picked me up from work and drove me to the bank to pick up money?’
John paid €1,600 to do a “purification rundown”.
At mission headquarters he sat in a sauna for 30 days sweating. Every day he also had to run to the Point Depot (a mile away) and back, and take high doses of vitamins. This procedure is supposed to boost intelligence.
John spent hours undergoing auditing, where members follow commands that lead them into a sort of hypnotic trance.
“They asked me the same question again and again — like ‘what did you do to your mother?’ They’ll continue with the question until there is a sign of stress. I said I stole money out of her purse and they dwelt on that.
“They have an obsession with sex and wanted to know every explicit detail of an encounter with a girlfriend.”
On one course John was asked to talk to an ashtray.
On another occasion he and a “twin” member had to walk from one end of a room to another for hours on end, and touch the wall each time.
“My partner in the activity seemed to suffer some kind of mental breakdown, and he needed help. They told him he would have to pay €5,000 for ‘repair auditting’.”
It was at this stage that John became disillusioned with the church and began to distance himself in 2009.
Tom Cruise’s prominence in the cult is regarded in the church as a double-edged sword.
It has given Scientology a touch of glamour, but it has also highlighted some of its loopier teachings.
In 2004 Cruise declared in a notorious video that in a traffic accident a Scientologist was the “only one that can really help.”
The cult’s belief that mothers should stay quiet during birth also causes controversy. On the church’s website an Irish member, Zabrina Collins, tells how she had a silent birth when her daughter Navarra arrived nine years ago. Members believe words spoken during birth have a harmful effect later in life.
Like many others, teenage student Gabrielle Wynne had her interest in Scientology piqued by stars such as Cruise and John Travolta.
“They aroused my curiosity,” said young ex-member from Whitehall. Gabrielle originally approached the cult when she was doing a project on world religions for a Post-Leaving Cert course.
“I interviewed a member and he made it seem spiritually cool:’
Soon afterwards, the 19-year-old did a personality test and within a short time she had joined the staff.
“When they are doing the tests they find something that you are not happy with — like a relationship — and they concentrate on that.”
Gabrielle helped to sell books and courses, but she says she became alienated when the church tried to get her to distance herself from her mother, who was critical of the cult. Any critic is labelled a “suppressive person”.
“They wanted me to disconnect completely, which would have meant leaving home.
They also wanted me to get out a loan of €3,000 for a course, and I decided I’d had enough.”
Another ex-member said the cult’s heyday was in 1980s and 1990s. He said the Irish mission now has no more than 20 active members.
Ever since Scientology’s founder L Ron Hubbard first opened a Dublin office in 1956 it has had to face criticisms from breakaway members.
Bernie Green, an early follower of Hubbard, revealed how the visionary drained the Irish operation of money when he lived here for a short time.
According to Green’s account in New York magazine, Hubbard spent a fortune on cigarettes, camera equipment and renting a plush house over-looking Dublin Bay .
“He bled us white, and left me holding the bag,” said Green.
Hubbard is reputed to have declared that the best way of making money was to start a new religion.
But ex-members complain that a vast bulk of the money goes to the top in Britain and America, and there is certainly little sign that the Irish church is prospering.
CHURCH RELUCTANT TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
The church declined to answer questions about its practices and about its Irish operation which were put to it by the Irish Independent. It referred to a section on its website answering some frequent allegations.
The church denies that it engages in mind control and adds: “Scientology frees people and enables them to think for themselves.”
The church says a person who disconnects (from a family member, for example) is “simply exercising their right to communicate or not to communicate with a particular person”.
Justifying the cost of courses the church says: “Scientology does not have hundreds of years of accumulated wealth and property like other religions.”
‘I SAW FILE ON VAN AND BEATLE GEORGE’
Corkman John Duignan saw secret Scientology files on celebrities, including Van Morrison and George Harrison, when he was part of the cult’s elite group, Seaorg.
Duignan rose to a position of Commanding Officer in Seaorg, a special unit that dresses in naval uniform.
He told the Irish Independent that the church had unsuccessfully tried to recruit Van Morrison and he had shown an interest. The sleeve of his 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, has a tribute to the founder, L Ron Hubbard.
Duignan said: “They kept files on everyone, particularly those who were famous. I was involved in putting them on computer in London.
“They were trying to involve Van Morrison, but the problem was that that the auditor who was supposed to be looking after him was starstruck, and seemed only interested in talking to him about his career?’
Later on they approached Van again, but he did not join, according to John Duignan.
He said the 1960s file for George Harrison showed that the Beatle had bought one Scientology book, but did not persist with the cult.
Although he rose to a senior position, John said he worked long hours for minuscule wages. For much of his time in Seaorg, he said he lived in dormitories on a diet of beans and rice.
Duignan broke away in 2006 after he became disillusioned with the gulf between the opulent lifestyle of the church’s senior figures and its rank-and-file workers.