Crystal Cathedral Member Sues Catholic Church with $30-Billion Claim

A congregant of the Crystal Cathedral has filed a claim in bankruptcy court, seeking $5.6 million from the California megachurch founder Robert H. Schuller and $30 billion from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, alleging the sale of the church campus violated his religious and civil rights.

David E. Phillippe, a longtime member whose wife is buried at the church's cemetery, is also seeking $50,000 for two cemetery sites, according to The Orange County Register.

Phillippe alleged the board of directors "acted at Schuller's bidding" and mismanaged the ministry's money causing the bankruptcy. The resultant sale of the Garden Grove campus to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has "permanently desecrated" the campus, he argued.

"Crystal Cathedral Ministries diverted funds to their own enrichment, failed to pay bills and through their own mismanagement of available money caused this bankruptcy," he wrote in the claim, and also mentioned Bishop Tod Brown, the pope and the Vatican.

The member added that the transfer of the property in February "defamed, polluted, cursed with moral, ethical cultural, criminal, spiritual and religious indignity" the church, its buildings and "the consecrated grounds" of the cemetery.

In an email filed with documents last week, Nanette Sanders, the attorney for the bankruptcy agent in the case, said the plan was confirmed last December and is "now a final, non-appealable order." "If you had an objection to the sale to the Catholic Church, you needed to raise your objection at the November confirmation hearings," Sanders wrote in the email. "Your alleged claims against the Pope, the Vatican and the Schullers are not claims in which the bankruptcy estate should be involved."

The Catholic diocese is not closing the cemetery and plans to respect the wishes of the families who have relatives buried at the Memorial Gardens or who have bought sites there for future use, church spokesman Stephen Bohannon was quoted as saying.

The diocese bought the landmark campus of Crystal Cathedral in February for $57.5 million on a court's order. The megachurch had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2010.

Crystal Cathedral is allowed to continue to worship on the campus for three years for $100,000 a month during the first year and $150,000 for the following two years. In 2015, the congregation is expected to move out of the campus, which will then serve as the spiritual home of the 1.2 million Catholics in Orange County.

Crystal Cathedral had been facing a growing debt and a leadership struggle since the founder handed over the leadership of the church to his family in 2008. Schuller founded the church with a $500 loan over 55 years ago.

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