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If the financially-troubled Crystal Cathedral’s board refuses to sell their 35-acre complex and landmark church building as part of on-going bankruptcy proceedings, creditors have told a local court they will sue.

The Crystal Cathedral

Prospective buyers include the Orange County Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ-affiliated Chapman University. Both have made — and now increased — multi-million-dollar offers to buy the iconic symbol of Dr. Robert Schuller’s TV ministry.

The university, which is three miles from the church, says it would allow the ministy to continue using the building — paying rent.

 

“Chapman University moved from Los Angeles to Orange County in 1954 and [Rev. Robert Schuller] started his ministry on top of a snack shack at a drive-in theater in 1955 — so a year apart,” said President James Doti. “We’ve been in it together and I’d like to think we could be long-term neighbors.”

The drive-in theater where the church started

He said the other buildings on the church’s property could be used for a medical, dental or pharmacy school.

The Catholic Diocese has offered $53 million, but the ministry would have to vacate within three years. Bishop Tod D. Brown has said that the diocese needs a worship space for its more than 1.2 million parishioners in Orange County. The 3,000-seat Crystal Cathedral is a less expensive alternative to a proposed $100-million Catholic cathedral project in Santa Ana.

However, Crystal Cathedral officials announced 10 days ago that they no longer wanted to sell, but instead have begun a faith-based effort to pay the church’s debt, relying on donations. Whether the creditors will wait, however, could jeopardize that plan. The creditors committee says the church’s unpaid lenders and vendors already have been patient, paticularly after the ministry sold a 170-acre Rancho Capistrano property and put the money into a trust fund.

The church and tower

“If church insiders vote to block the sale of the property,” reports Nicole Santa Cruz for the Los Angeles Times, the creditors will sue, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The filing said they would seek to recover what they see as “preferential” payments made to favored creditors during the two years that led up to the church’s Chapter 11 filing.

“A spokesman for the Crystal Cathedral did not respond to a request for comment,” reported the Times. “More than a dozen family members have been employed by the church, and a U.S. trustee for the Bankruptcy Court has questioned the job duties of several insiders.”

As part of the proposal filed Tuesday by the creditors, a compromise was offered: The church’s board could pick a buyer — with the committee’s approval — or the creditors group would pick one.

Several other potential buyers for the Garden Grove church were named, “but the filing mainly focused on the diocese and the university,” reported the Times, “revealing that both had raised their initial bids by several million dollars.”

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