The Rev. Robert H. Schuller is headed to a California bankruptcy court Thursday to address a $5 million claim that the ministry he founded nearly 50 years ago has reneged on its agreement to financially support he and his wife, and has been violating his intellectual property rights.
The Orange Country Register reports that Schuller, who along with wife Arvella Schuller founded Crystal Cathedral Ministries in 1955, is facing off against current administrators of the ministry in an Orange County court, in the latest twist in a bankruptcy saga that started in 2010.
John Charles, Crystal Cathedral Ministries's chief executive officer, told The OC Register that the ongoing bankruptcy case has been "painful for both sides."
"We're just hoping that it's soon over, so we can just move on," he said.
The elder Schullers claim in their lawsuit that Crystal Cathedral Ministries owes them money based on a contract made several years ago and in which it was agreed that administrators would provide the couple with more than $337,000 yearly for housing and insurance and for Robert Harold, Inc., among other payments. Robert Harold, Inc. is the name of the Rev. Schuller's corporation, according to The OC Register.
The agreement was reportedly made before Schuller stepped down from the megchurch in 2005, but due to tight finances, a subsequent bankruptcy, and restructuring Crystal Cathedral Ministries administrators reportedly began to decrease those payments before eventually outright rejecting the agreement.
Addressing criticism from former members that Crystal Cathedral's founders grew wealthy from the church, Carol Schuller Milner told The OC Register that they believe wrongly, and that church administrators failed to uphold their agreement with her parents.
"People have said the big, bad Schullers took all this money, but in reality we were running a $60 million organization. And we gave it our all," she told the publication. She and her husband, Timothy Milner also have court appointments for their own claims against Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
The elder Schuller, 86, also accused the ministry of exploiting and benefiting from his dozens of top-selling books and television recordings, reportedly saying in court papers that "...both my wife and I were quite generous in allowing (Crystal Cathedral Ministries) to use our intellectual property."
"However, at some point, the ministry started to exploit our intellectual property on the Internet, in ways that I had never contemplated," he added.
"We agree they belong to him," said Charles of Schuller's books. "We don't offer anything of his for sale. We don't quote him or use any of his material. We don't show his image on TV or any Internet pages."
While the claims are being handled in court, creditors owed about $12.5 million from Crystal Cathedral Ministries are also looking for repayment – but that won't come until these claims are first settled.
Nanette Sanders, an attorney representing the creditors, told the Los Angeles Times in March that her clients' case was being held hostage. She also expressed concern that once the Schuller's claims are settled, no money will be left to pay the creditors.
"If these claims are allowed in the amounts that they are asserting, there would be nothing left for the ministry and the vendors would not be paid in full," said Sanders.
Charles dispelled that claim.
"We anticipate that creditors will be paid 100% of the money owed them. Whatever is left, we're confident that it will be enough to continue bringing our message of hope to Orange County and the world," the ministry's CEO said in a statement.
Crystal Cathedral Ministries sold its sprawling Garden Grove campus to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange last year for $57.5 million, and plans to move to a different property owned by the diocese next summer, according to The OC Register. The ministry currently pays the diocese rent to use the Garden Grove facilities while in transition.
The Diocese opened the Crystal Cathedral church, renamed Christ Cathedral, for prayers last month. Over 1,200 Roman Catholic worshippers gathered at the iconic class sanctuary and prayed in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the San Jose Mercury News reports.