LOS ANGELES (AP) — The aging founder of the Crystal Cathedral is in court seeking more than $5 million from the ministry he built from scratch in a dispute that has delayed millions in payments to creditors left short-handed when the church filed for bankruptcy two years ago.
The Rev. Robert H. Schuller was in Los Angeles on Thursday for the start of a 10-day trial over copyright infringement, intellectual property and contract violation claims that stem from his ministry's devastating financial collapse. The trial continued Friday with testimony expected from his wife, daughter and son-in-law.
Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for bankruptcy in 2010 with more than $50 million in debt. The Schuller family's claims continue to delay about $12. 5 million in payments to creditors. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange purchased the ministry's soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral last year in a bankruptcy deal and the remaining worshippers will move out by next year.
"We're just hoping that it's soon over, so we can just move on," John Charles, chief executive officer of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, told The Orange County Register (http://bitly.com/T8GI6x ). "It's been painful for both sides."
One of Schuller's daughters and her husband also have claims in the case. The daughter earned $10,000 a month as an employee and her husband worked as an independent contractor for fundraising and arranging Schuller's speaking engagements.
One of the biggest sticking points for the Schullers is an agreement between the couple and the church written before Schuller left as senior pastor in 2005. That deal promised total annual payments of more than $337,000 for housing, insurance and money for Schuller's corporation, Robert Harold Inc. — but the payments stopped after the bankruptcy filing, the newspaper reported.
Another dispute is over the books, videos and other materials Schuller authored and considers his intellectual property. In court papers, the 86-year-old Schuller says that he never would have agreed to the sale of his materials by the church on the Internet if he understood what the Internet was.
Critics allege the Schullers abused their leadership position in the church to live a lavish lifestyle with money intended for the ministry.
The "Hour of Power" televangelist program at one point had 20 million viewers worldwide and the Crystal Cathedral where the show was filmed before a live congregation became a religious landmark for Schuller devotees.
From 1993 to 2010, four family members received compensation of nearly $13 million, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/UnJ7JC ).
When the ministry filed for bankruptcy, 20 family members were being paid a total of more than $1.9 million a year, the newspaper reported, based on court filings.