Crystal Cathedral: Was the Holy Spirit the Highest Bidder?

Since 1980 the Crystal Cathedral—that prismatic

glass tower that slices Garden Grove’s cerulean skies—has refracted the seven colors of the spectrum in the California sun. Soon, though, the familiar landmark will shine with the light of the Catholic faith and the seven sacraments.

“I don’t think it’ll happen,” said Tim Busch on Monday, November 14, referring to the Diocese of Orange’s bid to acquire the famed Crystal Cathedral, home to iconic televangelist Robert H. Schuller’s “Hour of Power” broadcast. “It would take a miracle.”

Bishop Tod Brown and his team of advisors and legal experts may have gotten their miracle three days later, when a bankruptcy judge ruled that the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board of directors had acted within the law when they accepted the offer of the Diocese over that of competing bidder Chapman University.

The Bidding War

In a nail-biting bidding war for the property, the Diocese of Orange had originally offered $50 million for the property, which includes the Crystal Cathedral and a number of additional buildings on a 31-acre plot. That bid was countered by Chapman University, which offered $51.5 million with a 15-year leaseback and a five-year buyback option. The Diocese increased its bid to $53.6 million, with a lease-back provision at below-market rates; this was followed by increases in the bid to $55.4 million and finally 57.5 million; but Chapman University, intent on acquiring the property, made two additional offers: first, an offer to purchase the Cathedral for $51.5 million with a $1-per-month, 15-year lease for core buildings without a buyback option; and then on Wednesday, November 16, just 30 minutes before the Ministries’ Board meeting, a second offer of $59 million plus additional incentives.

According to Busch, corporate counsel to the Diocese of Orange and an advisor to Bishop Tod Brown, media reports of a $1.5 million gap between the university’s bid and that of the diocese were grossly understated. Counting the additional rent and long-term occupancy incentives offered by Chapman University, Busch estimated that the Diocese of Orange was actually overbid by as much as $30 million.

But with

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan’s ruling late Thursday, November 17, the Crystal Cathedral, designed by architect Philip Johnson and boasting more than 10,000 glass panels, was sold to the Roman Catholic diocese.

The diocese has agreed to allow the ministry to remain on the property, leasing the main cathedral building for up to three years. During that three-year period, the diocese will work with architects to plan the eventual renovation of the cathedral premises—maintaining the elegant glass exterior but gutting the interior to make the space suitable for Catholic liturgical worship.

What renovations will be necessary?

Well, of course, Catholic worship requires an altar on which to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In addition, Bishop Brown will be outfitting the church—built in the tradition of the Reformed Church of America—with an ambo, a presidential chair, a tabernacle, candles, and a baptismal font. The current seating will be replaced with more typical pews (and kneelers).

Only the organ—with 273 rank, five manual pipes—will remain and will be used in worship. The grand organ incorporates both the Aeolian-Skinner organ built in 1962 for New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, and the Ruffatti organ which had been installed in the church’s earlier sanctuary.

How will the Diocese of Orange finance the deal?

Tim Busch projected that beyond the $57.5 million purchase price, the total cost of renovations will reach another $50 million. In the immediate future, the focus will be on necessary refurbishments for the various smaller buildings on campus—buildings which were constructed in the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, with the most recent construction having been completed in 1995. Once the main cathedral building is vacated in one to three years, it will be completely emptied and modified to accommodate the Catholic liturgy.

The total $110 million cost is actually substantially lower than the estimated $250 million required to design and build a new cathedral for the diocese’s 1,200,000 members. Some of the funds will be gained through the sale of diocesan property which will no longer be needed, such as the Chancery building. Busch acknowledged that there was already at least one offer for the Chancery property, and he expected others.

Why did the Crystal Cathedral prefer the Catholic bid?

A major concern for Crystal Cathedral Ministries was that Chapman University would not use the facility for worship but would convert it for secular use, purportedly as a performing arts center. The Catholic Church, in contrast, would continue to pray and worship in the building.

And what’s more, Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of Robert H. Schuller and current pastor of the church, remarked in a video on the Crystal Cathedral’s website that the Chapman University plan provided no space for the church’s children: for youth ministries or Sunday school or classroom space for preschool, kindergarten, elementary and high school students.

In the end, the Crystal Cathedral board voted to accept the offer of the diocese.

The Schuller family’s friendly relationship with the Catholic Church

Robert H. Schuller spoke often about how he was influenced by the great gothic cathedrals of Europe. Unable to find a similar worship space in Orange County, California, he set out to build one—and he enlisted the help of modernist architect Philip Johnson to reinterpret the strong vertical elements of Catholic cathedrals utilizing modern materials such as glass.

Schuller was always respectful of the Catholic Church, saying that the Roman Catholic Church is “the mother church.” He professed, “You are the church that has been here since the Resurrection, and you will be here 100 years from now.”

On several occasions, Schuller invited Bishop Fulton J. Sheen to speak at his church. A bronze statue of Bishop Sheen stands at the Crystal Cathedral, commemorating his visit and serving as a reminder of Schuller’s friendly respect. Roman Catholic theologian Henry Nouwen also preached from their pulpit.

There is a story of how Bishop Sheen, after speaking at the Crystal Cathedral, was being led through a roped-off passageway by Robert Schuller, as devoted fans reached out to touch him. As he passed this area heading toward the car, one elderly woman handed him a note, which he tucked into his pocket. Once inside the car, the bishop opened and read the note and asked Schuller, “Do you know where this trailer park is?” Schuller did know; and he agreed to take Bishop Sheen to the trailer park, just a few miles away, before they ate lunch. Once there, Bishop Sheen knocked at the door of one trailer, where the elderly woman received him with a shocked expression. After a few minutes he came out again, returned to the car, and said, “Now she’s ready for living—in this life and the next.” I suppose he had heard the woman’s confession.

After Robert H. Schuller’s 1,000th broadcast of the “Hour of Power,” leaders from many faiths stepped up to congratulate him. One of the congratulatory messages was from Mother Teresa.

The Holy Spirit was involved, and He changed hearts.

According to Tim Busch, one member of the Crystal Cathedral’s board told him as the court proceedings drew to an end, “I like the way you guys have handled this, and I’m going to convert to Catholicism.” Wednesday evening in the courtroom, she walked up to the bishop and repeated that.

Schuller himself gave his blessing to the sale. “I could not abide the thought,” the 85-year-old minister wrote in a letter to the court, “that Chapman might someday use the cathedral for nonreligious purposes.” Catholic leaders had promised that they would “take on your calling of proclaiming Christ’s message to humanity” and “care for the campus like the treasure it is.”

I asked Tim whether he had any personal thoughts about the sale, or about the long road that had brought the Diocese of Orange to this point. He answered easily: “Highlight that the Holy Spirit was involved, and that He changed hearts.”

The Crystal Cathedral board acted prudently; it wasn’t all about the money or all about them. They knew that God had given them this property, and they sought to preserve it as a place of prayer. It was truly a conversion, and truly an opportunity to see how the Spirit works. That is the story.

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38 Responses to “Crystal Cathedral: Was the Holy Spirit the Highest Bidder?”

  1. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    Leave it to our bishops. That building is not suitable for a church and can never be. Does nobody in these United States know that our Church has laws? It is structurally impossible for that building to be consecrated as a church. That’s all that there is to it. God help us. Ignorance at that level is inexcusable in the laity: it is purposeful and gravely sinful in the clergy.

  2. Kathy Schiffer says:

    Kevin, I love you, but your sedevacantism has rendered you a church of one.

  3. I fail to see how it couldn’t be consecrated if a proper altar is built and the building dressed (i.e. properly renovated) and blessed for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    I see a HUGE crucifix hanging from the front of those windows. Let’s hope Bishop Brown thinks that direction rather than with felt banners.

  4. Oh – wait – I see – Kevin is one of those who believes Christ was a liar when he said “the gates of Hell will not prevail” against the church. (He’s a sedevacantist.)

    Anyway – we’ve turned pagan temples into Catholic churches (see the Pantheon). If we can consecrate a pagan temple, we can consecrate a building built by a heretic. Besides, enough of them have taken away our buildings by force and never reimbursed us for them (i.e England) – at least we’re kind enough to pay them for the building.

  5. Incredible! My heart sang as i read this story, for if for but one convert, one soul, it is worth it!

  6. RC says:

    While I’m glad to hear about the friendly relations between the Schuller board and the diocese, there are larger concerns to take into account. One is that Bp. Brown passed the age of 75 this week and has to submit his resignation. Thus he’s signing contracts to saddle his unknown successor with a controversial building and the bills to pay for it. Roof leaks will not be his problem. Fortunately, the new bishop will at least have time to make the best of a bad building by the design choices for the interior. Maybe he can even be so lucky as to find a way to back out of this deal.

  7. […] Greg Kandra Tweet Get a load of these intriguing details, courtesy Kathy Schiffer at Seasons of Grace: According to Tim Busch, one member of the Crystal Cathedral’s board told him as the court […]

  8. Michael Riecken says:


    Way to make me hit wikipedia:

    Excellent use of the word!

  9. Mack Hall says:

    Will the faithful Protestants who sacrificed to build this facility get their money back?

  10. Alan Church says:

    Actually, that is an improper use of the word and quite slanderous to accuse someone of it because you disagree. He said nothing about believing the Chair of Peter being vacant.

    I happen to agree with him that this building is not suitable for Cathollic worship. It is a waste of money that could have been better spent on a new building. A structure using time tested sacred architecture. Countless people are converted by merely walking into cathedrals like Charte. This is nothing but a temple to post-modernism.

  11. Leo Ladenson says:

    If the Pantheon could be converted to a church (in 609) and the Dome of the Rock could be consecrated and used as a church from 1099 to 1187, then it seems hard to believe that the Crystal Cathedral could not likewise be used.

  12. GodSpace says:

    With Tim Busch spearheading this everything will be outstanding. Didn’t know about the statue of Abp Fulton Sheen, he must have been watching over this transaction. DEO GRATIAS

  13. GodSpace says:

    The best repayment the faithful Protestants can get is their conversion to the Catholic Church.

  14. Dave in San Juan Capistrano CA says:

    Sure a lot of vitriol on this subject for a Catholic site. Financially, it is a good deal for the diocese. The other buildings and the land alone are worth 100 Mil as OC land is the highest in the country. Trust me on this — if Tim Busch thinks its a good deal it is. He is a brilliant man who has built a very succesful Catholic grade school and high school in Orange County. In fact, he had a deal with Shuller for some other land for the HS until the city stopped the deal. One of our parish priests says mass at his office for his employees once a week.

    And when you compare what this will be when renovated to the monstrocity that Cardinal Mahoney built in LA, this one can be made to look like a traditional Catholic church although with modern architecture. I’m not sure what the one in LA is supposed to look like.

    Bishop Brown WILL be retiring soon. There will be a traditional cleric to replace him. I have great faith that whoever he is, he will make this building into a great Catholic Cathedral. And I am predicting right now that the Pope (whoever that is) will dedicate this building. Peace

  15. Finch says:

    I had no idea that a cathedral could be so expensive. Even so, I’m also impressed that, at $110-million, that’s still only roughly $100 for each of the 1,200,000 Orange County Catholics. On the other hand, if these are “nominal” Catholics, and actual, active membership is on the order of only 20%, then the cost per active member is 5-fold, or $500; and if the active membership includes children (easily one-third to one-half of the total), then the cost per adult, active, participating, faithful Catholic is a good $1000.00 per active adult. And — to borrow from Tevye (“Fiddler on the Roof”) — on the other, other hand, $1000 per active member isn’t much, if — big “if” — the building remains usable for the better part of a century — $10.00 per year (for a century) per member alive today; less per member counting those yet to be born. (On the other, other, other hand — there are maintenance costs, utilities, taxes — the whole deal.)

    Bottom line: this is a justifiable expense.

    Even God, in the Old Testament, wanted only the finest appointments for the Temple housing the Ark of the Covenant.

    I would think, too, that, eventually — given land costs in California, at least a portion of the 37-acre site could be sold to help with expenses.

    After all, the Church is not merely a social worker with the “patina” of a divinized mission. For that purpose (social workers, government bureaucrats handing out $$$ to the needy without TLC), there are nice office buildings for rent all over the place.

    There is a lot to be said for aesthetics. People are more than animals needing food, clothing, and shelter. To say that until and unless every last human being on the planet is fat, warm, and dry, that there can be no justification for this kind of expense – well, let’s just recall that Judas Iscariot complained about the money spent by the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive nard, saying that the money could have been given to the poor.

    Our mission is to witness to the glory of the Truth; and to worship that Truth in an environment conducive to directing our thoughts heavenward, so that the travails of feeding, clothing, and housing in this “valley of tears” might not overcome us and cause us to despair of the eternal verities.

  16. Bill Russell says:

    After Archbishop Sheen preached in that Crystal “Cathedral” he complained to associates in New York that the many letters sent to Sheen c/o/ the “Hour of Power” and forwarded to him, had first been opened and all cash contributions had been removed.

  17. OC Catholic says:

    Speaking as a Catholic from Orange County, from my perspective it is a poor choice. For one, the location is less than desirable. Garden Grove’s nickname is garbage grove. Orange County has almost endless beautiful locations to site a cathedral. The buildings are old and costs for upkeep will be substantial. We were originally told the cost for a new cathedral would be approximately 100 million. Now we are told that that this is such a great deal because a new cathedral would cost over 200 million. Seems like the cost rocketed an additional 100 million dollars to make it sound like such a great deal. It doesn’t have a majestic sacred appearance that a cathedral should have, but rather, looks like a concert hall. Another $50 million to renovate. Who is going to pay for this? In these stressful economic times, Bishop Brown, who by the way lives in a mansion, is going to start a capital campaign. I don’t see the work of the Holy Spirit in this. I see a bishop desperate to receive credit for the cathedral as his legacy. I don’t know personally even a single catholic who views this as positive move. Lastly, unlike the unnamed woman in the story, many protestants are deeply offended by what they see as a bully Catholic church with deep pockets taking over one of their premier places of worship.

  18. Ryan says:

    Mass at the Fortress of Solitude! Will Superman be there?

  19. Joseph says:

    I, for one, have been there. I don’t want to get caught up in the argumentation of the situation. I will only say that if the Liturgies there match the magnificence of the building. they will really be something. Please no quibbling. I realize that the Mass is the Mass anywhere. However, we Catholics have still found it necessary to build magnificent cathedrals throughout the centuries. Beauty is beauty and lifts us up to God. In the case of the Crystal Cathedral, it is the beauty of nature that lifts us up to God. What a view of God’s creation!

  20. matt ulrich says:

    I am from Seattle, so my comment won’t mean much.
    I would never go this glass palace to Mass-NEVER
    I thought it was a joke when I first started reading about it a couple of months ago.
    I’m sure if you did a survey-the glass joint would lose, but then when has the church ever listened to the laity
    Matt from Seattle

  21. Juli says:

    Better yet… Jesus will

  22. Work4AMDG says:

    I’d like to have this Bill Russell provide documentation on his charges the ministry of Robert H. Schuller’s stealing the money out of Archbishop Sheen’s mail. I was taught many years ago that, whether in a speech, writing, or general conversation, ALWAYS provide proof (documentation) of my statements – otherwise it is considered slander, which is something you will be held accountable.
    I agree with Dave in S.J.C. that there is too much vitriol on here. Those involved in the decision-making, regarding this decision by the diocese of Orange County, know a whole lot more about how this will all take place than I do, or most of you out there do. If those dissenters out there feel you know more than the leaders of your diocese – go apply for those positions in the diocese. I, personally, am looking forward to the dedication of the new Cathedral in 3-4 years. I’m sure God will be pleased. After all, He is involved as the Holy Spirit.

  23. Andy says:

    I think it looks sort of pretty on the outside. I prefer the architecture of the stone cathedrals and basilicas of Europe though. I especially prefer the interior of the latter (based on images I’ve seen on the Internet). The inside of the Crystal Cathedral looks kind of boring and a bit New-Age, while I love the stained-glass windows, the mosaics, the altars, the sculptures, just basically everything about their interiors. This is just my opinion though. That said, I would rather have $50 million go to building a church resembling the Sacre-Coeur or Notre Dame than the Crystal Cathedral (I am also ignorant of how much it would cost to actually build).

  24. Heidi Saxton says:

    Well put!

    Just before I was confirmed into the Church, I lived in Orange County and visited CC on several occasions. The interior space alone kind of takes your breath away. Even as a Protestant, it made me want to kneel down and worship. (Not that I could, given there weren’t any kneelers.)

    I’d suggest that we do our best to give the Church leadership in the Diocese of Orange (including the bishop as well as his representatives) the benefit of the doubt with regard to what boils down to a prudential judgment. It seems to me this is one case where the principle of subsidiarity applies -that those closest to the problem should have the freedom and power to make decisions necessary to resolve it.

    There is an unfortunate — and in some cases, even sinful — tendency among some Catholics from other parts of the country to take pot-shots at our bishops in California. I’ve never entirely understood why they feel entitled to do so.

    This week I’ve been working on a Church History project, in which I’ve had an opportunity to read Pope St. Clement I’s letter to the Church at Corinth, in which he takes to task the laity there who for some inexplicable reason dismissed their clergy in some kind of holier-than-thou standoff. The pope admonished them: “Disgraceful, beloved, indeed, exceedingly disgraceful and unworthy of your training in Christ, is the report that the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is, thanks to one or two individuals, in revolt against the presbyters. And this report has reached not only us but also people that differ from us in religion…” His point: The world will recognize our faithfulness … by our love for one another. And that the clergy have been entrusted by God to serve as “fathers” in a very real sense – and we should think twice or even three times before casting aspersions, especially public ones,

    In the end, I wonder whom God will judge most harshly — Dr. Schuller and his representatives, who cooperated with the Church even though they do not fully embrace the fullness of the faith — or those of us who claim to have embraced that truth, yet feel entitled to publicly critique those God has ordained for service.

    Kathy, I’m so thankful that you took time to post this story. Let us wait in hope and trust, that the Holy Spirit will continue to work through the Church leaders of the diocese of Orange to bring about a place for the People of God that will draw the whole world back to the bosom of “Mother Church.”

  25. cathi d says:

    Thanks for sharing this story.
    “I like the way you guys have handled this, and I’m going to convert to Catholicism.” Wednesday evening in the courtroom, she walked up to the bishop and repeated that”.


  26. Turp says:

    Gothic architecture was radical and new when it came out. All modern trends that stay around long enough become traditional. So what if it’s made of glass and steel? It still embodies the spirit of Gothicism in that it reaches upward to heaven in an attempt to inspire and focus our prayer and attention, as well as to give us perspective on our own smallness. I’m glad the diocese didn’t have to get approval from everyone prior to the purchase or it would never get done until it was negotiated to the lowest common denominator – and wouldn’t THAT turn out to be an inspiring purchase?

  27. I must say I am sad at the tone of some of the comments here. I found the article wonderfully uplifting. There is a remarkable tribute given to Bishop Sheen and to the Diocese, indeed to the Catholic faith, by Rev Schuller and his congregation. And it is something quite moving that they wanted it to remain a house of worship, even if it meant less for them.

    I surely hope none of them read some of the awful comments here. And, while I am generally not a fan of non-traditional Church buildings, there is something of an iconic status that the Crystal “Cathedral” has attained. I think, with the proper Catholic essentials it can be an inspiring place of worship with its soaring verticality and modern, though still somewhat classical lines.

  28. mark says:

    New Cathedral in Oakland CA, 190 Million dollars…

    New Cathedral in LA CA, 250 Million dollars…

    New Cathedral for the Diocese of Orange CA, 110 Million dollars…

    SUCH A DEAL!!!

  29. mark says:

    Just one more thing…

    If AB Sheen appeared, it was at the building used by Pastor Schuller’s Ministry

    before the Crystal Cathedral was finished in 1980. AB Sheen died in 1979.

  30. […] Catholic perspective on the story might be refreshingly different.  In an article boldly titled, Crystal Cathedral: Was The Holy Spirit The Highest Bidder? she offers this insight about 3/4ths of the way in; but you really need to read the whole article. […]

  31. Laure says:

    I totally agree with you Alan. That place is in NO way a Catholic church. And Yes there are laws but no one seems to follow them any more or care. Congregations don’t speak up because they a completely clueless. It truly is a sad situation.

  32. Romulus says:

    The Pantheon was built by an architectural genius, with the benefit of centuries of organic development in classical architecture. The structure is eminently suited for divine worship, expressing the inbreaking of divinity in the visible world. The Crystal Cathedral is built in the International Style, a passing fad that consciously distanced itself from historical precedent as something alien and dangerous. The sterile, anonymous structure could serve equally well as an office building, auditorium, or high-end retail space. Symbolically, the message is directly opposed to the Catholic concern for all time, including a reverence for organic development of doctrine and the accumulated wisdom of experience.

    Let’s not kid ourselves that the CC’s architectural merits are in any sense comparable to the Pantheon’s.

  33. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    Absolutely not. And watch your language! Benedict XVI is the Pope. All American bishops are in schism, as he himself–when Cardinal Ratzinger–said, explicitly. But it’s obvious to anybody who knows the first thing about the Church or the Faith that it embodies. The fact that fully 90 percent of American bishops have been directly implicated in civil and criminal courts for enabling or committing the most obscene sexual acts on minors–and on other men–is merely a symptom of their willful separation from the Church.

    You have probably never even attended an authentic liturgy; and if your clergy disobey the liturgical norms they are in schism, undeniably. If your parish priest has “Eucharistic Ministers” at every parish Mass, he–and your bishop–are absolutely and undeniably in schism, in flagrant disobedience of the norms and moreover of no fewer than four direct and specific papal encyclicals ordering them to cease the practice. And that’s just the most flagrant sign of their separation from the Church, their knowing and purposeful repudiation of their pontiff and their vows.

    And again: if you take the trouble to inform yourself of the basics of the Church and of the Faith, you’d know this; which would be a fine idea before starting a blog. Love you too. But take six months or a year off and learn how the Church works–and check the court records here on the bishops.

  34. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    Oh, and you’re wrong on another important point, too, Kaths. I’m not a “church of one”. I’m going strictly by the laws and the teachings of the Church. I am one with the Roman Catholic Church. Your bishops, and most of the clergy whose writings you forward, are not. They are in habitual and public violation of those laws and of those teachings, and therefore in violation of their vows and committing the sin of schism. This is obvious to anybody who knows those laws and those doctrines and chooses to observe them–as we all vowed to do at Baptism. But no, I am not a “church of one”. I am one with the Church. Again, study those laws, study those doctrines–and study the public records. You’ll see who’s on which side!

  35. Mark Bailie says:

    I’ll be honest and say that I am no longer Catholic but have joined the Episcopal church. Still, I think C.C. would make a magnificent Catholic cathedral. It does bother me, though, that so many are upset about it, both Catholic and Protestant. However, as regards proper Catholic church design, while the pagan temple Pantheon in Rome was consecrated in 609, meanwhile basilicas had already been used as churches for nearly 300 years. A basilica was originally nothing more than a secular standard lecture hall of ancient Rome, and these mostly were converted into Catholic churches rather than the temples partly because they were more practical for accommodating large assemblies than most of the old temples. My point is that traditional Catholic churches are modeled on nothing more than a secular lecture hall of the ancient world. This would be especially true of the Spanish California missions. So if in olden days both lecture halls, and a few pagan temples also, could be converted as churches, I see no reason why the Crystal Cathedral shouldn’t be.

  36. Widodo Budi says:

    We need to be grateful for the generosity given by God to souls who are involved in the process to continue making the Crystal Cathedral as a place of Christian worship.

  37. Johannim says:

    Listening to some of my Catholic confreres, makes me hang my head in disgust and shame, accusations on this site range from sedevacantist to heretic to schismatic, get a life , people need to re-discover the Jew we call Messiah and what he taught, what he taught was not your vitriol and rancor. I for one can easily see a Tridentine (extraordinary) Mass celebrated in Crystal Cathedral after it becomes a Cathedral (with a cathedra) kneelers, a CENTRAL Tabernacle and alter, ambo etc. We will have a new Bishop soon in Orange County California and watching the new appointments Pope Benedict 16th is appointing he will be an Orthodox, Traditional Bishop.

  38. Josef says:

    Johannim, I certainly hope so. Bishop Brown the Heretic would never permit a Tridentine mass there.

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