Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy: Judge to Decide on Calif. Megachurch's Sale Today

Iconic Ministry's Campus to Be Sold to Chapman University or Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange

A judge is expected to decide Monday whether bankrupt Crystal Cathedral's campus will be sold to Chapman University or the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, a decision that could mean an end to the Garden Grove megachurch's iconic era.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries, which claims more than 10,000 members and broadcasts the popular televised service, "The Hour of Power," owes an estimated $50 million to creditors, which forced the founding pastor, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, and his family to put the property up for sale after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2010. The signature property is a local landmark, with the church building made of an estimated 10,000 glass panes.

Potential buyers of the megachurch's property has been now narrowed down to two potential buyers: Chapman University, an Orange County-based private university affiliated with a Protestant organization called the Disciples of Christ, which is the preferred bidder chosen by the Schullers, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which is located close by and is the highest bidder.

Chapman University is reportedly offering the congregation a 15-year lease plan, so the ministry at Crystal Cathedral could continue its work there. It is also offering a buy-back option so the ministry can purchase four buildings, including the iconic glass sanctuary, at a later point.

Meanwhile, the Catholic diocese has offered the congregation three years to move out, including an option of moving into the diocese's current campus, where the St. Callistus Catholic Church stands, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Originally, the list of top potential buyers was constituted of the diocese, Hobby Lobby and Chapman University. On Oct. 26, the Schullers announced that they have "reluctantly" agreed to sell the property to the university, which offered $50 million for the campus.

On Oct. 31, it emerged that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange had filed a petition in a California courthouse to stop the sale of the campus to Chapman University. The diocese also placed another, higher bid of $55.4 million on the estate on Nov. 10.

The diocese reportedly claimed in the lawsuit that under the plan proposed by the school, the ministry could be in the red once again by May 2012.

Crystal Cathedral administrators filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after reportedly experiencing financial difficulties since 2002, in what is a controversial and much publicized case of a megachurch possibly going out of business.

On Sept. 30, creditors in the megachurch's bankruptcy case filed a lawsuit against church administrators, including the Schullers, in which they are accused of borrowing money from Crystal Cathedral's endowment funds, therefore receiving good salaries even as the church was experiencing financial malaise. The suit claims that the Rev. Schuller and his relatives borrowed as much as $10 million from the endowment funds between 2002 and 2009.

On Oct. 4, Schuller denied the allegations, calling them "serious and untrue."

Some Christian leaders have been suggesting that the cloudiness surrounding the bankruptcy process is giving Christianity a bad image.

The Rev. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, founded the Crystal Cathedral congregation (known previously as the Garden Grove Community Church) in 1955.