(Photo: Reuters/Alex Gallardo)
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange received the necessary approval from Pope Benedict XVI Monday to proceed with its purchase of the Crystal Cathedral's Garden Grove, Calif., property.
The Vatican has given the Orange County Catholic institution the green light to proceed with the transaction after it won the bidding for the signature property owned by the church established by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the Orange County Register reported Wednesday.
The approval makes the sale of Crystal Cathedral's campus even more certain, although the congregation is still praying for a miracle, with Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman having announcing recently that the church board thinks it is still not too late for God to "save" the ministry's campus from being sold.
God has "intentionally delayed" the miracle, Coleman told members Nov. 20 as she asked God to reveal His final plans during a Sunday service.
The church has not been doing well financially since 2002, and a year ago administrators filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since then, members have been trying to save the church, donating money from their own pockets, which proved not enough to pull the church out of its estimated $50 million debt.
Robert Schuller, the ministry's founding pastor, announced during the Nov.17 hearing in a Santa Ana bankruptcy court that the church's board had finally made the tough decision of choosing the Roman Catholic diocese as the buyer of its property, over the other bidder, Chapman University.
The diocese's terms require the ministry to leave the premises within three years. The diocese offered to pay $57.5 million.
Meanwhile, the university offered in its last pitch in late November to pay $59 million in cash for Crystal Cathedral's campus. The school was additionally offering the megachurch a chance to buy back the property within the next 30 years for $30 million, with a financing option, university spokesperson Mary Platt told The Christian Post on Nov. 28.
"It's always disappointing when something like this happens," she added when asked about the mood among the staff, who hoped to open a new health sciences campus on the ministry's 40-acre property. But the real estate market is really good right now, Platt added, suggesting that the school should have no problem finding a new property to focus their attention on.
Chapman University President James L. sent an email to the school community after losing the last bid, in which he declared that the institution is sorry for having lost, but that it is ready to move on.
"Acquiring 30 plus acres and architecturally stunning buildings in relatively close proximity to our campus made it an opportunity too good to pass up," he wrote. "While the bidding process turned out to be quite a horse race, we lost in the final stretch."
Robert Schuller made it clear that the board wanted the buildings to continue serving a religious purpose, while he acknowledged that the ministry has great respect for the university and an appreciation of its offer.
"Dr. Schuller has been a key figure both in Orange County and around the globe for many years. I wish Crystal Cathedral Ministries success with their reorganized finances," Tod D. Brown, the Bishop of Orange, said in a statement one day after the decision was announced. "Dr. Doti and Chapman University are also pivotal to the life of our county; we wish them well with their future plans."
The bishop also said he was surprised to have won the case, and that the soon to be acquired buildings are large enough to meet the diocese's "present and anticipated needs."
"I was surprised and gratified that so many people told me they were hoping we would be successful; it is clear by all the interest focused on our efforts that many of our laity understand the need for and importance of such a cathedral for Catholics in Orange County," Brown said.
The property is a landmark building in town, designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, and covered with 10,000 glass panes - an unusual idea for a state not estranged to earthquakes. The notable structure has attracted admirers since its erection in 1980. The main hall of the iconic church building seats 2,800 worshipers.
That building became a symbol of the ministry, and congregants will have a hard time leaving it. The sale issue sparked a controversy among churchgoers. Many were attending all the church hearings in the bankruptcy case. Some were outraged after the decision was announced of the planned sale to the Catholic institution, which means the chance of buying the property back will be lost.
The local Christian community has been observing the case’s development as well. An elder member of First Baptist Church of Garden Grove, Chet Smith, told CP on Nov.19 that the congregation is like a big family.
"It's hard to face it when you're family is being broken up. You try to do everything you can to prevent that," he said.
Smith acknowledged that the ministry has been attracting many faithful congregants with its "dynamic" nature and solid media outreach. Crystal Cathedral broadcasts "The Hour of Power," the longest running televised sermon in the United States, watched by an estimated 20 million people every week. Smith also emphasized that pastor Schuller is a very charismatic figure.