A Catholic's take on the Crystal Cathedral of California

The Catholic Diocese of Orange in California's attempts to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a real cathedral. The saga continues...

The main raw material in glass production is sand, and we all know not to build our houses on (in) sand!

It seems that the Diocese of Orange in California is desperate to buy the so-called Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, the mega-church home to the Reformed Church of America's televangelist mission. The ailing Protestant group that runs the Crystal Cathedral is facing financial difficulties, and as part of its bankruptcy settlement has been forced to put its pride and joy on the market. It just so happens that the Catholic Diocese of Orange - which I thought was itself bankrupt - is currently looking for an appropriate cathedral, as the current one dedicated to the Holy Family and located in Orange City is too small - one must concede that it does look rather unimpressive (see below).

A few weeks ago the Diocese of Orange offered to pay $55.4 million for the Crystal Cathedral complex, but it was reported yesterday that it is now willing to offer $57.5 million. Its main rival in the bid to buy the glass mega-church is Orange County's Chapman University, which has only offered $51.5 million. Normally, it would seem bizarre that the Diocese of Orange is upping its bid when its rival is sticking with its lower offer, but it appears that some Protestants connected to the Crystal Cathedral - which, by the way, is neither a cathedral nor made from crystal! - have grave (pun intended) reservations about selling this cherished building to the Catholic Church. It seems that, amongst other things, one of their main fears is that those evangelicals buried in the mega-church's cemetery would turn in their graves if they suddenly found themselves under (quite literally) the Pope's jurisdiction!

According to Alan Martin, acting as attorney for the Diocese of Orange, another reason why the Church is offering more money for the site is that it is hoped that the extra $2 million would address what were described as feasibility concerns stemming from intellectual property rights and other claims by the family of the televangelist who founded the mega-church, one Rev Robert Schuller. Although the Crystal Cathedral's board is officially happy with both bids (does it have a choice, being bankrupt?), it is also being reported that it prefers the offer from Chapman University, as this would enable the church to eventually repurchase its former building. One would assume that those evangelical Protestants who currently run the Crystal Cathedral would also have reservations about seeing their trophy-piece fall into the hands of people they possibly consider to be anti-Christ (or whatever Presbyterians call Catholics nowadays).

The federal judge in charge of administering the Crystal Cathedral's bankruptcy is Judge Robert Kwan. He is currently examining both bids. The Diocese is desperate to have a central and big-enough cathedral for its people, whilst Chapman University would use the former mega-church as a possible medical school. The former has promised to allow the evangelical group the use of one of its local Catholic churches, whilst the latter has guaranteed that the Crystal Cathedral would remain on is Protestant campus - Chapman was founded by yet another Protestant group, called The Disciples. It is now hoped that Judge Kwan decide which bid is successful sometime soon.

Could the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be worthily offered in a place like this?

This whole story highlights the transient nature of Protestant success stories. The ego-driven world of evangelical Protestantism is built on sand, not on the rock that is Peter. Is it any wonder, then, that Protestantism has always been a movement of splintering groups and sudden revolutionary growth followed by steep decline? Many studies have shown how evangelical movements usually attract young people who hang around for about 5 years before moving on or losing their Christian faith altogether. Young Catholics, on the other hand, tend to remain committed to Christ for life - even if they, like the rest of us, have the odd blip in their relationship with him from time to time.

The Diocese of Orange's determination to buy the Crystal Cathedral also raises the question as to whether such a building is suitable as a Catholic church? It is true to say that it doesn't really look like a church, even if it gained a strange bell-tower in the 1990s. Having said that, there are some decent modern cathedrals in Latin America that look similar to this building, though - so it wouldn't be the Catholic world's first greenhouse-type church.

Needless to say, if the Diocese of Orange is successful in its bid, then quite a lot of internal restructuring would have to be undertaken to change it from a non-sacramental building into a living church, a house of God.  But would it ever be an apt building for the liturgical reforms of Pope Benedict XVI, or for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite? Whatever happens, let's hope that this church once built on (or in) sand will soon be transferred onto the rock that Christ left us.

Dylan Parry resides in the UK and blogs at A Reluctant Sinner.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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