LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who was among the best-known faces of America's televangelist heyday, has asserted in a federal bankruptcy court 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.
Schuller, 86, testified Wednesday in U.S. District Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles to support claims that Crystal Cathedral Ministries owes him and various family members more than $5 million following the financial collapse of the televangelist empire that produces "Hour of Power." Schuller, his wife, and a daughter and son-in-law say the ministry owes them for unpaid contracts, copyright infringement and intellectual property rights.
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 testified Wednesday that he — and not the ministry — owned his creative works although he let them use the works as long as they did not sell his materials to competitors, The Orange County Register reported (http://bitly.com/UnJ7JC ). He also did not receive royalties from the books and shared all profits with the church, he said.
"We never had anything in writing. We just had an understanding," he said, according to the newspaper. "A gentleman's understanding."
Schuller at times appeared confused or gave answers that appeared to contradict previous sworn statements in court documents, the newspaper reported.
He also said he was chairman of the board of directors for Crystal Cathedral Ministries when, in fact, he and his wife severed all connection with the church earlier this year.
His daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, said outside court that his memory troubles were based on stress.
"He's very present and loving life, but when he starts sensing there is a conflict, he reacts," she said. "He cannot even fathom (this case) could be happening."
Schuller and his wife, Arvella, also say they are 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 also allege claims of about $272,000 for work they did for the church that has gone unpaid, the Register reported.
About $12.5 million is still owed to creditors, including vendors who provided services for the cathedral's annual Easter and Christmas spectacles.
Schuller got his start in Orange County in 1955, preaching from the roof of the concession stand of a drive-in movie theater.
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.
The ministry began to collapse in recent years after plummeting donations and a failed leadership change to Schuller's son, who eventually left the ministry.
The fallout split the congregation and another of Schuller's daughters recently also broke away to form her own church.