The Philadelphia Inquirer - October 8, 2009
Parents to be tried in child's prayer death
Judge Dugan reminded the Schaibles that when they had found themselves in legal trouble, they had gotten lawyers.
By Joseph A. Slobodzian | Inquirer Staff Writer
When 2-year-old Kent Schaible became ill in January, his parents did what they always did: They prayed.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible prayed for 10 days, and when Kent did not improve, they called their pastor to pray with them. When that failed, they called the funeral home.
But the Schaibles - members of a Northeast Philadelphia church that shuns medical care - never called a doctor.
Yesterday, that decision left them facing trial on criminal charges in their son's death from bacterial pneumonia.
Municipal Judge Patrick F. Dugan called the Rhawnhurst couple "obviously loving parents who also appear to be misguided."
Dugan reminded the Schaibles that when they had found themselves in legal trouble, they had gotten lawyers.
"Your call was made to a funeral director," Dugan said. "Your child needed medical care."
Herbert Schaible, 41, and Catherine Schaible, 40, each remained free on $150,000 bail pending trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and child endangerment.
Neither would speak to reporters after the preliminary hearing at the Criminal Justice Center in Center City. Their lawyers said the couple have several other children, who remain in their custody.
According to testimony at the hearing, the Schaibles are members of First Century Gospel Church at 4557 G St. in Juniata Park, a fundamentalist congregation founded in 1925.
Though both Schaibles dropped out of school after ninth grade, Herbert Schaible works as a teacher at the church school at 6807 Rising Sun Ave. in Lawndale.
There was no answer at the church yesterday, and Pastor Ralph Myers, who prayed with the Schaibles over their son, could not be reached.
This is not the first time First Century Gospel Church members have run afoul of authorities because they believe in prayer over medical care.
In 1993, Philadelphia officials got a court order after another church couple prayed over their 12-year-old son at home instead of getting him to an emergency room after he was hit by a car and suffered a leg injury. Doctors saved the leg.
And in 1991, First Century Gospel Church and another fundamentalist church, Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Nicetown, made news when eight children died during a Philadelphia measles epidemic after members resisted vaccinating their children. The parents of one of the eight were First Century Gospel members.
Yesterday, Homicide Detective Stephen J. Buckley testified about questioning the Schaibles at their home Jan. 26, two days after their son died. Buckley also read their signed statements.
Both parents, Buckley said, told him that Kent's illness had begun Jan. 13, when he appeared listless and had chest congestion, a sore throat, loose bowels, and a lack of appetite.
They cared for him at home for 10 days, giving him soft food, juices, and tea and praying over him.
Kent appeared to improve a little, Buckley said the couple had told him, but was still listless.
On Jan. 24, Buckley said the Schaibles had told him, the child began feeling cool to the touch. They said they had called Myers and then an undertaker, the detective said.
Herbert Schaible's attorney, Bobby Hoof, and his wife's, Francis Carmen, argued that the Schaibles' religious beliefs did not cause their son's death.
The lawyers argued Kent's symptoms were never different from those of a bad cold or flu. Only the autopsy revealed he had bacterial pneumonia.
But Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore told the judge that the child's illness could have been quickly diagnosed and treated with antibiotics and other medicines.
"This 2-year-old clearly suffered," Pescatore said. "They can refuse medical treatment. They can be martyrs if they want. They can do that because they're adults, not a child."
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