SANTA ANA – A federal court judge agreed to move forward with a bankruptcy reorganization plan for the Crystal Cathedral presented by a committee representing hundreds of creditors who are owed millions.
A hearing Wednesday afternoon established the process by which Orange County's iconic church will be sold. The hearing also drew comments from some of the entities that have put in offers to buy the church and a church member who criticized founder Robert H. Schuller's daughters for bringing about the ministry's downfall.
Nanette Sanders, an attorney representing the creditors, said the next step will be to mail out the plan, which calls for the sale of the 40-
Sanders said she expects a majority of the creditors to favor the plan to sell. Although Crystal Cathedral's leaders announced in July that their church is not for sale and that they will try to raise $50 million by Thanksgiving to clear the debt, their attorney Marc Winthrop said Wednesday that his client is cooperating with the sale process.
"Their hope is to be able to raise the money by November," he said. "Progress has been made. I can't say if it will happen. But, it is the ministry's number one goal."
Also discussed during the hearing were ways to deal with claims totaling $2 million made by "insiders," primarily family members of Robert H. Schuller. The creditors committee has stated in the plan that insiders should be paid only after the unsecured creditors, primarily vendors and contractors, have received what they are owed.
Carl Grumer, an attorney representing some of the Schuller family members, said his clients would object to that and would like to be paid the same time as other creditors.
Sanders said the insider claims will be treated as a separate issue and will not have any impact on the sale process.
Bob Canfield, a church member and one of several congregants who have organized a petition drive to save the ministry and eliminate the Schuller family from the cathedral, told the judge that there are donors willing to give money if the Schuller daughters leave the church.
Robert H. Schuller, 84, handed over the church's administration to his oldest daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman. The older Schuller and his wife, Arvella, still serve on the board.
"Dr. Schuller is a great man," Canfield said. "We need to get him back in charge and get rid of his children, who are fighting among themselves."
Robert and Arvella Schuller, who founded and built the ministry over the last 55 years, were in court for the hearing. They looked at each other and sometimes held hands as Canfield spoke.
Schuller's daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, who was also at the hearing, said she was never involved in the administration of the church.
"So, I can't speak about that," she said. "They talk about the ‘girls,’ but the truth is, not all the girls are involved."
The church has several pending offers to consider. The highest is now from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $53.6 million in cash – up from $50 million.
Chapman University, which originally offered $46 million, is now ready to pay $50 million. My Father's House International Church in Norco is also offering $50 million. Chapman's plan includes a leaseback and buyback option as does Oklahoma-
Sanders said Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Chapman University seem the strongest of the bidders.
Tracey Lawrence, a spokeswoman for My Father's House International Church, said at the hearing that the creditors' plan does not describe how it will give the church back to its congregants.
Lawrence said the church broke creditors' trust by not paying them money that was promised to them.
"The creditors' committee has been taken hostage by the bankruptcy process," she said.
Lawrence asked that they go back to the table and consider an option such as the one presented by My Father's House Church International, which said it would give the church back to whom it belongs – its congregants.
Sanders said the Norco church's offer did not show the financial backing needed to buy the Crystal Cathedral. The creditors' plan called the Norco church's plan "inferior."
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Court puts Crystal Cathedral sale in motion
By DEEPA BHARATH / Orange County Register
09/14/2011 3:42 PM