LOS ANGELES — The Rev. Robert Schuller has lost a court bid to obtain more than $5 million from the ministry he founded, a now-bankrupt religious empire that included worldwide “Hour of Power” broadcasts and Orange County’s landmark Crystal Cathedral.
A U.S. bankruptcy judge on Monday rejected most of the breach-of-contract and copyright infringement claims that Schuller and his family had made against Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
Schuller was awarded only $615,625 for housing allowances, health insurance premiums and unpaid compensation from the ministry. His wife, Arvella, got nothing. His daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, and her husband, Tim Milner, sought $272,000 but together were awarded only $77,615, the Orange County Register reported.
Schuller’s daughter on Tuesday said she believed that the judge disregarded much of the evidence.
“There’s just a sense of injustice about it….I think it’s shameful,” she said, adding that she was unsure whether the ruling would be appealed.
Schuller got his start in Orange County in 1955, preaching from the roof of the concession stand of a drive-in movie theater. Rather than preaching hell and damnation, he offered a positive-thinking message of a loving and generous God.
He built the landmark Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove 25 years later as his congregation reached 10,000 members and gave weekly sermons that were broadcast live around the world as the “Hour of Power.” The show at its high point attracted 20 million viewers.
Schuller also wrote dozens of books, including several best-sellers, with such titles as “Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do.”
However, the ministry began to collapse in recent years after plummeting donations and a failed leadership change to Schuller’s son, Robert, who eventually left the ministry. He was replaced by another daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, who left earlier this year to form a new church.
The ministry filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, citing $50 million in debts. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the soaring, glass-paned cathedral that Schuller built in 1980 as a pulpit for his televised sermons in bankruptcy proceedings last year. The remaining congregation plans to move to a new location next year.
Schuller and his wife all connection with the church earlier this year.
The couple claimed they were owed nearly $5.1 million because the ministry rejected an agreement that would have paid the couple $300,000 for the rest of their lives. Milner and her husband alleged they were owed for unpaid church work.
Schuller testified earlier this month that he never gave up ownership of his books and other teachings even though the ministry he founded used them freely, including on the Internet.
The award probably won’t cover the family’s legal fees and her parents, who are in their 80s gave much of their wealth to support the ministry and may have to sell their home, Carol Schuller Milner said.
“The ministry said they would take care of them for the rest of their lives,” she said in a tearful telephone interview. “They sold property and gave it to the church. They mortgaged their home and gave the money to the church. They’ve been basically been left penniless because of their generosity to this organization and it’s very disillusioning.”
The Schullers will have to stand in line with other creditors for a chunk of $17 million the ministry has available to pay its creditors.
“The ruling will enable the final creditors to be paid and give us the money we need to move on with our ministry, spreading a message of hope and love to the people of Orange County and, through the ‘Hour of Power,’ to the world,” the ministry’s chief executive officer, John Charles, said in an email.
“The trial was painful for everyone involved, and our congregation is ready to move on,” he wrote. “We love the Schullers and wish them well.”