Inside the bizarre world of Scientology
Our reporter ventures into the Irish 'mission' to see behind the headlines
Today the Sunday Independent takes you inside the strange and secretive world of the Irish Church of Scientology. The church hit the headlines last week after it emerged the head of the church, David Miscavige, bizarrely claimed that its 'Dublin Mission' was responsible for an 85 per cent drop in drug-related crime in the capital.
Addressing fellow Scientologists during the church's New Year's Eve gathering, Miscavige described the Dublin Mission, which claims to have distributed 110,230 booklets to members of the public last year, as an "exemplary emphasis of how missions take root in cultural soil".
But the church's extraordinary, and up until now, unheard of work left drug agencies and gardai here scratching their heads.
And despite regularly reporting on drug-related stories in the capital, it was certainly the first I heard of the Scientologists' crusading work to clean up our streets.
All I knew about the church is what was written about some of its most famous followers; that it drove Tom Cruise to jump up and down like an excited teenager on Oprah's couch; and that it contributed to the Hollywood star's divorce with Katie Holmes, the mother of his daughter Suri.
I headed down to the headquarters of the church's Irish mission in Dublin's city centre, situated above a hairdresser's salon on Middle Abbey Street.
I climbed the creaky stairs of the premises and was met by a man standing behind a desk, who introduced himself as Viktor.
The room was non-descript and sparsely decorated, with some potted plants and two smaller offices located to the rear.
After I enquired about joining the church, Viktor directed me towards two chairs that were placed in front of a television, which was surrounded by numerous DVDs about the religion.
Viktor was about to put on one of the DVDs when I enquired about the personality tests the church is known to frequently offer to the general public for free.
I took a seat, and Viktor went through the instructions with me.
It took me approximately 25 minutes to answer the 200 questions.
It was quiz-style questions on one set of papers, answers on the other, with three possible replies; yes, no or maybe.
The questions were bizarre, personal and quite unsettling, obviously crafted to decipher every aspect of my personality.
"Could you agree to strict discipline?"; "Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing"; "Do you smile?"
I felt deeply uncomfortable answering the questions.
After completing the questionnaire I went back into the main lobby and handed my answers to Viktor, who disappeared off to study them.
While he was gone, I was invited to watch a DVD, which repeatedly told me that drugs were bad, my parents are good, and to brush my teeth.
Throughout my time in the office, I felt as if I was constantly being watched.
I was quite nervous when I was taken into a separate room to be questioned about my answers.
I was quizzed by Viktor about my intentions: what aspect of Scientology intrigued me the most; where I lived; my education background and where I worked.
I became increasingly nervous as the questioning became more personal.
I had my phone on my lap, with my friend's number dialled on the keypad and ready to call, just in case.
After the session, Viktor praised my personality, based on his interpretation of my responses. This didn't make me feel any better. I made my excuses and asked to leave.
I was curious to have a closer look at my results, which were on the separate page on the questionnaire that I had not been allowed to see.
Viktor told me the results had to be retained for "technical reasons".
He then escorted me back towards the lobby and handed me some literature, which promised me that Scientology would make me a better and more balanced person.
There were two other members of the Dublin Mission in the lobby as I made my exit. I quickly identified one of these as Ger Collins, the leader of the Irish operation, or the 'Dublin Mission Holder'.
There was an eerie atmosphere; it felt as if no one wanted to look me in the eye. I tried to sneak glances at them as I passed but got the distinct impression they were happy to see me leave.
Maybe they could smell a rat and knew I was a reporter, but I wasn't sticking around to find out.
My brief dalliance with the Scientologists was over; I'll be making my way back to Mass this morning.