Bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Sold to Catholics for $57M

(Image credit: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

Bankrupt megachurch Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. is changing faith traditions.  The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Orange is purchasing the church’s 40-acre property with its towering glass building for $57.5 million in a deal approved by a bankruptcy court judge Thursday.

The megachurch, founded by television evangelist Robert H. Schuller in 1995, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October last year to restructure its staggering debt.

The founder’s son, Robert A. Schuller, took over the church until he was forced out, in part, by family members who reportedly disagreed with Schuller’s leadership. The younger Schuller, now chairman of FamilyNet media company, had the highest salary at the church when it went bankrupt at $196,478, the Orange County Register reported.

The current congregants of Crystal Cathedral will have to find a new place of worship though dozens attended the six-hour hearing pleading to call off a sale of the property.

The board of directors on Wednesday voted to approve the Catholic diocese’s purchase even though Chapman University in Orange County offered up to $59 million.

“It will become a true center for our Catholic community in Orange County,” Bishop Tod D. Brown told reporters after the hearing in federal bankruptcy court, the Associated Press reported.

The board chose the diocese to preserve the church as a religious institution, citing church bylaws and a desire to honor the donors who contributed to the church’s construction.

In 2008, the recession led to a decrease in church donations and ticket sales to its holiday pageants, according to church officials.

The church’s money troubles forced it to lay off  at least 140 people last year, halve the air time of the “Hour of Power” TV program and even dismiss its orchestra and professional choir singers, church officials had said.

The cathedral decided to file for Chapter 11 only after some of its creditors sued for payment, according to church officials. Hundreds of creditors could be owed between $50 million and $100 million, according to documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Its largest creditors include several television stations.

The beleaguered church canceled its “Glory of Easter” for the first time last year. Its holiday pageants, which charged up to $45 admission, drew thousands of people. People who were hired for those grand productions were among the creditors who say they were owed money.

“It was a very big production,” said Juliet Noriega, the wardrobe manager for the pageants, who claims she was owed more than $11,000 last year. “The three wise men rode in on camels. The roman centurions made their entrances on horses. Because the cathedral was such a large venue everything they did there was quite large. There were 200 people on stage and thousands of costume pieces.”