Interest-free loans from abroad are propping up the troubled Irish branch of the controversial Church of Scientology.
Financial documents seen by the Irish Independent reveal that the church is more than £1m in the red after running up huge legal bills in an epic eight-year battle brought by a disgruntled former member.
As a result, members of the mega-rich Church of Scientology in the United States have had to cough up almost £400,000 just to keep the Dublin arm afloat.
The celebrity endorsed group landed itself in a financial hole after a case was taken against it by a former owner of a sports equipment shop, Mary Johnston.
In the high-profile case, Ms Johnston alleged conspiracy, misrepresentation and breach of constitutional rights, as well as deliberate infliction of emotional harm, against the church and three of its members. The case was eventually settled out of court in 2002.
The Scientology spokesman in Dublin, architect Gerard Ryan, said yesterday: “Obviously, if you get into a legal thing that lasts eight years, the legal bills are going to be simply staggering. There is no pressure on us to pay the money back. It has been donated by various Scientologists across the world. In the States, we are very large and some of the more affluent people have been able to help us out.”
Mr Ryan admitted that the growth of Scientology here had been “very, very small”. Eighteen years after the Dublin office opened, it had managed to attract only a few hundred members. “We have a different point of view of things. We have teachings on past lives. From my point of view, I will be coming back next time,” he said. “If someone isn’t a Scientologist this time around, they may be next time.”
Mr Ryan admitted, however, that the Church’s £1m deficit was making it “difficult” to achieve things in its current lifetime. The Church has also failed to achieve charitable status in Ireland, which would give it tax-free status.
The head of Scientology in Ireland is Kerryman Gerard Collins. Other prominent Scientologists here include members of Mr Ryan’s family as well as a Swede, Anna-Lena Blance, who edits the church’s infrequent magazine, called Freedom. Outside Ireland, Scientology – which was set up by the deceased US author L Ron Hubbard – has celebrity devotees including Tom Cruise.
“It is a double-edged sword having celebrity members,” Mr Ryan said. “One the one hand, it promotes the fact that we exist, but on the other, it means we can be associated with fairy-fairy land.”