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A new and intriguing prospect for the Crystal Cathedral emerged Wednesday when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange said it was considering buying the bankrupt church in Garden Grove and converting it to a Catholic cathedral.

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The announcement by Orange Bishop Tod Brown came one day after Chapman University made a $46-million bid for the 40-acre site. The Crystal Cathedral had earlier reached a tentative agreement for a sale and lease-back deal with a real estate developer, subject to approval by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Kwan.

A sale to the Catholic Church would solve a longstanding problem for the Orange Diocese, which has no central cathedral for its 1.2-million parishioners. It has been planning for more than a decade to build a new, 2,500-seat cathedral in Santa Ana, but has gotten only as far as hiring an architect.

The Crystal Cathedral, designed by the late Philip Johnson, would provide an instant, 3,000-seat architectural landmark at roughly half the $100 million that was previously estimated for the Santa Ana project.

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Such a deal, however, presumably would mean the end of the Crystal Cathedral Ministry’s tenure on the site — a hard pill for the founding pastor, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, and the church board to swallow. The bids by both Chapman University and the real estate developer, Greenlaw Partners, would allow Crystal Cathedral ministries to lease back portions of the site, including the cathedral itself.

Numerous groups have been sending out feelers about buying the Crystal Cathedral property, according to the ministry’s bankruptcy lawyer, Marc Winthrop.

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