July 8th, 2011
02:00 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Could Southern California’s Crystal Cathedral, which helped start the evangelical megachurch trend after it opened in 1970, become a real cathedral, as in the Roman Catholic kind?
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, California, announced this week that it is exploring the possibility of buying the controversy-vexed church, which declared bankruptcy last fall.
Diocese Bishop Tod D. Brown has “followed the news of the ongoing Crystal Cathedral Ministries (CCM) bankruptcy proceedings and is concerned for the future of the landmark church remaining a functional part of the liturgical landscape for the region,” the diocese said in a Wednesday statement.
“The Diocese of Orange does not currently have an adequate cathedral to meet the needs of its 1.2 million Catholics in Orange County, the 11th largest diocese in the nation,” the statement said.
The diocese’s announcement came on the same day Chapman University, a Southern California school, revealed that it had offered $46 million for the Crystal Cathedral.
“The nearly 35-acre Garden Grove property is strategically located just three miles from Chapman University’s City of Orange campus,” the school said on its website. “The Cathedral is a well-known icon in Orange County, and the surrounding property includes seven major buildings representing more than 329,000 square feet of space.”
The diocese of Orange’s announcement about the cathedral appeared to reference Chapman’s offer, saying the diocese wanted “to mitigate the chance that (the Crystal Cathedral) cease to function as a place of worship, if acquired by others.”
The high-profile church has been recently rocked by controversy.
The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who built the Crystal Cathedral, was voted out by the church's board in recent weeks.
In a statement issued by the church Monday, officials said Schuller's role with the board was merely changing.
"Now 84 years old, Dr. Schuller has been working toward semi-retirement, since total retirement is not an option for this pastor who is still just as passionate about his calling," the statement said.
"Recently, the board of directors of Crystal Cathedral Ministries voted to change Dr. Schuller's position from that of a voting board member to the honorary Chairman of the Board Emeritus, a non-voting position," the statement added.
Schuller's granddaughter, Angie Schuller Wyatt, said the vote took place several days ago. "He was ousted by the board in the same way my father was. It was surprising but not completely unexpected," she said.
In 2006, the elder Schuller stepped down from the pulpit as senior pastor but continued to preach and to sit on the board. His son Robert A. Schuller stepped in as senior pastor. Two years later, after a dispute with the board, the younger Schuller was voted out by the board.
Today, Sheila Schuller Coleman, Schuller's eldest daughter, has the reins of the ministry, carrying the title of executive director of ministries and missions.
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