Crystal Cathedral's Schuller: Suit's claims vs. family unfair

By DEEPA BHARATH / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Published: Oct. 5, 2011 Updated: 2:51 p.m.


Robert H. Schuller shot back in response to a lawsuit filed by creditors saying that he and board members always acted in good faith and in the best interests of the Crystal Cathedral.


In a statement released Tuesday night, Schuller said he and the cathedral's board members acted in good faith.

"Whatever actions were undertaken by the Board of Directors of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries also were undertaken in good faith, with the best interests of Crystal Cathedral Ministries in mind, and upon the advice of the Ministry's legal and other professional advisors," he stated.

The complaint was filed after Schuller family members refused to put their own financial claims in bankruptcy court behind the unsecured creditors, primarily vendors, who are yet to be paid.

Schuller says most of the "real vendors" and creditors have now been replaced by investors who have bought over those claims – "speculators" who are standing by to make a profit after the sale of the church's 40-acre campus in Garden Grove.

"This lawsuit makes serious and untrue allegations regarding myself and my family," Schuller states. "It is unfortunate that I will have to defend this lawsuit, only to prove what is true."

Referring to his own agreement in 2005 in which the senior Schuller was given $300,000 and benefits, staff and use of an office suite for life, the founder said the "ministry has reaped great benefit from that agreement, far in excess of what it has paid, and it stands to receive even more in the coming years."

Among other things, the creditors' lawsuit filed in bankruptcy court Friday alleges that the Cathedral's board drew about $10 million from endowment funds between 2002 and 2009. Money from those funds was used for church expenses and salaries when they were donated for specific purposes such as caring for the Walk of Faith memorial stones.

The lawsuit also specifically names Schuller's daughters, son and their families as well as former Chief Financial Officer Fred Southard, saying that they received lavish salaries, housing allowances and other benefits such as travel benefits and vehicles.

Schuller's daughters, Carol Schuller Milner and Jeanne Schuller Dunn, have said the lawsuit has inaccuracies and misinformation. Milner said she and her siblings have always been a part of the church and contributed to the best of their abilities, but that most never had a say in the decisions the board made.

The complaint says Robert A. Schuller, son of the founder, and his wife, Donna, were promised a $235,000 reserve fund and $1 million in seed money for a new church. In addition, they also got a Mercedes-Benz and occupied a condominium owned by the church in Laguna Beach, the suit says.

Donna Schuller, who has also been named in the lawsuit, said Tuesday that the Mercedes-Benz mentioned in the complaint was a gift from a family friend in 2005. At the time, her husband requested that the car be put in the church's name so it would encourage their friend to give to the ministry in the future, she said in an email to the Register.

"When we left the church in 2008, Robert asked the church to please give the car back to him since it was rightfully his car and he did not have another one to drive," she said. "He still drives the car and it has 125,000 miles on it."

Donna Schuller also said she and her husband never saw the $235,000 that was promised to them in 2008, when he was "forced out by a couple of his siblings." The money was meant to go toward their new ministry, she said.

"In turn, neither of us was to say anything disparaging about the ministry," she said. "I called it 'hush money' at the time."

The contract also agreed to pay up to $1 million to start Robert A. Schuller's new ministry once the cathedral sold a piece of property worth $5 million or more, Donna Schuller said. The amount would then be pro-rated depending on the salaries that had been paid to them, she said.

But the cathedral has not fulfilled their contract to help Robert A. Schuller start a new ministry, his wife said. Meanwhile, she said, she continued her own ministry through email and her own blog, which she still uses to communicate with thousands of people who were trying to reach the younger Schuller.

"It was absolutely heartbreaking," she said. "Many of them thought Robert had either severe health problems or there was even a rumor that we were having marital problems. Or that he had done something so inappropriate or immoral that the church had to let him go."

No one was told what exactly happened, she said

The creditors' lawsuit will have no bearing on the church's sale, although it is a part of bankruptcy proceedings. The two top bidders for the property are the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Chapman University, which have offered $53.6 million and $50 million, respectively.


Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or dbharath@ocregister.com


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