The judge in the Crystal Cathedral bankruptcy case agreed Wednesday to move forward with an exit plan that calls for the sale of the church's Garden Grove property.
In the next month, about 400 creditors will vote on an exit strategy; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Chapman University, both of which increased their initial bids, remain the leading candidates to buy the property. The creditors committee, composed of various vendors, is open to considering other offers, attorney Nanette Sanders told the court.
"Everyone is looking to have a sale occur as soon as possible," she said of the creditors.
The Diocese of Orange has proposed a $53.6-million cash offer; Chapman has offered $50 million but would allow the church to lease back and repurchase core buildings and land.
Even so, the Crystal Cathedral ministry, which launched a fundraising campaign July 31, has been hoping for $50 million in donations. Founded by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the church filed an initial exit plan in May that called for the sale of the campus to a real estate investment group. After a board reorganization, the church withdrew that plan.
Judge Robert Kwan asked the cathedral's attorney, Marc Winthrop, about the fundraising effort.
"That's the ministry's No. 1 goal," he said, but did not state how much money has been raised.
Carl Grumer, an attorney representing Schuller, his wife, Arvella, his daughter Carol Schuller Milner and son-in-law Timothy Milner, filed an objection to the plan regarding an intent to sue insiders if they vote to reject it. He said his clients also object to a stipulation in the plan that would pay insiders last.
Grumer said that the plan leaves "many unanswered questions."
Sanders said the language will be clarified in documents that will be mailed to creditors next week.
Other potential buyers are still interested in the church, including Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts retailer that would lease the property to the Kings University, a college and seminary headed by the Rev. Jack Hayford.
Tracey Lawrence, a spokeswoman for My Father's House Church International, a nondenominational church based in Norco, asked the committee to withdraw the current plan, and place the church back in the hands of congregants — a move her church claims it will do.
"We, the citizens, are concerned that the creditors committee has been taken hostage by the bankruptcy process," she said.
Bob Canfield, a longtime Crystal Cathedral congregant and one of the organizers of a petition to rid the church board of family members, said the cathedral can be saved, but only if certain Schuller family members leave the church.
"We, as parishioners, can raise the money if we can get rid of the girls, their husbands and their families," he said, referring to Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, the founder's oldest daughter, and Gretchen Penner, another daughter, who is married to board member Jim Penner.
Canfield also said the congregation can raise money "almost immediately."
A hearing to officially approve the exit plan is scheduled Nov. 14 in Santa Ana.