Thursday, November 17, 2011

Live from Orange: Bishop Tod's "Hour of Power"

SVILUPPO: And as the old song says, "What's done is done, and what's won is won" -- around 7pm Pacific Thursday night, the Federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the Crystal Cathedral case awarded the property's sale to the Orange diocese, for its most recent bid price of $57.5 million.

By late 2014, the terms of the deal stipulate that the landmark mega-church, affiliated with the Reformed Church of America, is to become the seat of the 1.3 million-member suburban SoCal fold.

Shortly after the decision was announced, two days after reaching the retirement age of 75, Bishop Tod Brown of Orange released the following "important message":
Dear Presbyterate and Laity of our Diocese of Orange,

This afternoon Judge Robert Kwan confirmed a bankruptcy plan that awards the Crystal Cathedral and surrounding campus to the Diocese of Orange. I want to thank all of you who were praying for this outcome and for the wise and helpful counsel
I received from my many lay advisors and diocesan staff.

Dr. Schuller has been a key figure both in Orange County and around the globe for many years; I wish Crystal Cathedral Ministries success with their reorganized finances. Dr. Doti and [rival bidder] Chapman University are also pivotal to the life of our county; we wish them well with their future plans.

This outcome addresses our efforts to have a cathedral large enough to meet our present and anticipated needs. I was surprised and gratified that so many people told me they were hoping we would be successful; it is clear by all the interest focused on our efforts that many of our laity understand the need for and importance of such a cathedral for Catholics in Orange County.

As the days draw close to Thanksgiving, let us attend with gratitude to all of the blessings that we have received as a gift from God, not on what we lack.
* * *
(3pm Pacific/6pm ET) -- Much as the sensory overload that is November Meeting might be behind us, gang, as previously noted, only now are things beginning to heat up.

There's a lot currently in the pipeline -- the Pope to Africa tomorrow, two more ad limina visits before month's out, this weekend's 23,000-strong turnout at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, The Missal, etc....

Moving most quickly across the wires right now, however, is what could be the most significant act of a drama brewing out West over recent weeks -- the diocese of Orange's astonishing campaign to acquire Crystal Cathedral, the bankrupt Reformed church landmark.

The diocese's bid recently increased to $57.5 million (up $4 million in a week), earlier today the board of the celebrated glass church -- best known for the weekly televised "Hour of Power" hosted by its founding pastor, the Rev. Robert Schuller -- made a U-turn, backing the Orange bid over that of a nearby Christian university which offered both a higher price and more generous provisions for the cathedral's ministries to remain on-site.

By contrast, a Catholic sale would, within three years, transform the 2,700-seat temple into the cathedral of the 1.3 million-member suburban SoCal church, whose rapid growth since its 1981 founding has quickly overwhelmed the capabilities of the current Holy Family Cathedral in Orange city. The diocese's major liturgies -- ordinations, Chrism Masses and the like -- have long been held at its larger parish churches.

Though significant toward the outcome, the board's vote is not the final determination of the winning offer. That is expected to come later today with a ruling from the judge overseeing the cathedral's Chapter 11 filing in Federal bankruptcy court.

The hearing was originally slated for Monday, but had been delayed as the parties continued sweetening their bids.

Beyond being relentless, the diocese's push to win the sale is exceptional on several fronts. In an ecclesial context, however, the most intriguing aspect is that it comes amid the 75th birthday of Orange Bishop Tod Brown, who reached the mandatory retirement age on Tuesday. A local party to mark Brown's milestone -- the birthday, that is -- will be hosted by the diocese on Monday; of course, the prelate spent this week in Baltimore for the USCCB Plenary.

As Brown's successor would inherit the move and its ramifications at the outset of his tenure, a successful offer by the diocese would likely receive considerable scrutiny in Rome, and could possibly even be scuttled by the Holy See should the acquisition be seen as unduly prejudicing the future of the diocese and the freedom of its next bishop to make his own calls.

In the wake of the "window" law suspending California's statute of limitations in sex-abuse suits, the OC church took out, then quickly repaid, a $50 million bridge loan to help settle some 90 cases in 2004 for a total of $100 million. To fund a prospective Crystal purchase, the diocese is understood to be laying the groundwork for a capital campaign. Further revenue would ostensibly come from the sale of a smaller plot long owned by the diocese for an earlier incarnation of its long-sought cathedral project.

While the price of the Schuller campus has been seen as a once-in-a-generation "bargain" given its value, size and location, were the deal to proceed the diocese would inherit another set of sizable costs to maintain the swath of buildings on Crystal Cathedral's 40-acre grounds, most of which date from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The prospective deal would make for the second-straight glass cathedral in California, following Oakland's Christ the Light, which was dedicated in 2008. The postmodern East Bay project is said to remain mired in a significant debt toward its $175 million cost.