Crystal Cathedral Gets $50 Million Bid From Catholics

The Crystal Cathedral, Orange County’s landmark but debt-stricken megachurch which birthed the “Hour of Power” TV show, has been offered $50 million in cash for its property, which could take pressure off the Roman Catholic Diocese with over 1.2 million parishioners in the area.

As “a pragmatic alternative to construction of a new cathedral, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has submitted a formal bid for the Crystal Cathedral, adjacent campus property, buildings and memorial grounds,” the Most Rev. Bishop of Orange, Tod D. Brown, said in a statement Saturday.

After the Crystal Cathedral Ministries Board of Directors reviews the offer, the diocesan plan would be presented to the Committee of Creditors and the Bankruptcy Court, the statement said.

Ever since founder Robert H. Schuller, then 81, handed over the leadership of the megachurch to his family in 2008, the Crystal Cathedral has faced numerous challenges, including a leadership struggle and a growing debt. The church, which owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors, filed for bankruptcy last October.

“The offer is straightforward and would provide creditors maximum relief in the shortest possible time,” Bishop Brown assured. “If the proposal is accepted, creditors could see resolution within the year and possibly sooner.”

Alan H. Martin, a bankruptcy attorney of the diocese, said his client would pay $50 million in cash within 30 days of the bankruptcy court’s approval of the reorganization plan. The diocese was also willing to help Crystal Cathedral Ministries “phase out its operations by offering a three-year leaseback plan for some of the buildings on campus including the four-story Family Life Center on Chapman Avenue,” the Orange County Register quoted him as saying.

Martin also said the diocese was ready to offer the Crystal Cathedral even an alternative worship space at 90 percent of the fair market value for 15 years. “They could also choose to buy the same property at 90 percent of the fair market value within five years if they choose to do so,” he said.

Schuller’s church in California had earlier received $46 million offers, with leaseback and buyback agreements, from real estate developer Greenlaw Partners Inc. and Chapman University. My Father’s House Church International of Norco had also announced its offer of $50 million but it is not clear if the bid was made formally.

Explaining why the Catholic Church was keen on buying the property, Bishop Brown’s lay development adviser Tim Busch said the Crystal Cathedral sanctuary in Garden Grove, which seats 3,000 people, and its surrounding buildings could house the diocese’s entire administrative staff, school, and retreat center. In comparison, he said, the diocese’s biggest church, St. Columban in Garden Grove, could seat only 1,500 people.

“We have more than 1 million Catholics in Orange County and we need a facility for our liturgies – Easter, Christmas, for ordination of priests or installation of a bishop or even a place to have a funeral,” Busch was quoted as saying.

Earlier this month, senior members of the Crystal Cathedral started an online petition against the church board alleging nepotism and a doctrinal shift by Schuller’s daughters. They said they wanted to have their church back from the board and appoint trustees that had no self-interest.

When Schuller founded the church over 55 years ago, it was known as the Garden Grove Community Church and its first services were held in a drive-in theatre. The construction of the Crystal Cathedral, which includes the main sanctuary designed by architect Phillip Johnson, was completed in 1980 and cost $18 million.

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