The Reverend Robert H Schuller testified at the US Bankruptcy Court on Wednesday in Los Angeles against his former ministry, the Crystal Cathedral megachurch, claiming that it owes him millions of dollars.
The 86-year-old former church leader appeared to be confused at some of the questioning, The Orange County Register noted, and mistakenly identified himself as the chairman of Crystal Cathedral Ministries – although he and his wife, Arvella, cut all ties with the church earlier this year. They founded Crystal Cathedral Ministries in 1955, which grew to be one of the largest Christian sanctuaries in California. But in 2010 the couple filed for bankruptcy.
His testimony, on which he was questioned by an opposition lawyer, lasted two hours. Schuller tried to convince the judge that although he had never objected to Crystal Cathedral using his books and other works for their ministry, they were still his property and the church should not have been receiving royalties from them.
"We never had anything in writing. We just had an understanding," Schuller said, "a gentleman's understanding."
The former megachurch leader noted that he shared all of the profits from his books with the church, and allowed them to continue handing out his works as long as they were not sold to competitors.
"I allowed the ministry to use it," Schuller clarified. "I did not give ownership to anyone."
When questioned by attorneys, Schuller admitted that he was unsure of all the details behind his agreement with Crystal Cathedral. Although he had previously signed a declaration stating that the ministry had exploited his intellectual property on the internet, on Wednesday he said that he needed to "discuss with the Lord" whether he had actually given Crystal Cathedral permission to sell his material online or not.
When asked by attorney Todd Ringstad of Crystal Cathedral whether the ministry owed him $55,226 for a housing allowance, as he had claimed before, Schuller said that he tried not to remember what people owe him.
Other claims signed by Schuller include an alleged agreement between him and Crystal Cathedral that would have paid his family $300,000 for the rest of their lives, amounting to millions of dollars, which he is asking compensation for.
His daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, commented on her elderly father's apparent memory problems, saying that it is not a sign of dementia, but that he is under a lot of stress.
"There's been a rumour out there that he has dementia," she said. "It's not dementia.
"He's very present and loving life, but when he starts sensing there is a conflict, he reacts," Milner said. "He cannot even fathom this (court case) could be happening."
A Crystal Cathedral elder present at the court case on Wednesday has described the situation as "sad", and maintained that it could have been avoided.
"It's sad. It didn't have to be this way," said Pam House. "If they had been more open about their finances, like other churches, and worked as a team, maybe we all could have worked on this together and prevented the bankruptcy."
The cathedral itself was renamed "Christ Cathedral" in June 2012 after it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Orange, and plans to be the largest Roman Catholic sanctuary in the world, outside the Vatican.
Schuller takes the stand against Crystal Cathedral
Published 12 November 2012