Judge rebukes Rhawnhurst couple over death of another child

The Philadelphia Inquirer/April 23, 2013

They heard their son crying through sleepless nights, suffering with diarrhea, and when little Brandon Schaible's parents noticed his labored breathing, authorities said, they prayed over their baby until his final breath last week.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible told a judge in 2011 that they would never choose religion over medicine again after their 2-year-old son, Kent Schaible, died from bacterial pneumonia in 2009.

But on Monday, the Rhawnhurst couple sat together again in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, silent and somber as a judge skewered them for "grossly and disastrously" violating their probation when they watched Brandon, just shy of 8 months old, die last week.

"I am sorry for your loss. Deeply sorry," Judge Benjamin Lerner told the couple. "But in all honesty, I am more sorry for the fact that this innocent little child will not be able to grow up to be what he wanted to be."

Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to the First Century Gospel Church, a fundamentalist congregation on G Street near Annsbury in Juniata Park, that believes in faith healing. The couple were convicted of involuntary manslaugher for Kent's death and sentenced to 10 years of probation that included strict requirements for medical care for their remaining children.

In court Monday, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said the couple acknowledged that Brandon was crying, experiencing diarrhea and having trouble sleeping and breathing before he died at home Thursday. The family called a funeral home after Brandon died.

"They called here and we immediately notified the medical examiner," said Rick Fluehr of John F. Fluehr & Sons funeral home, on Cottman Avenue in Mayfair.

Alerted by the Medical Examiner's Office, police visited the couple's home on Rhawn Street near Eastwood that night, neighbors said.

The Schaibles had not been charged as of Monday night. Authorities were awaiting results of an autopsy, Pescatore said in court Monday.

The Schaibles gave statements to investigators last week, Lerner said, both admitting they believed that prayer was the best remedy for Brandon's suffering.

"When asked why you didn't call a doctor or seek a medical professional, you said, 'Because we believe God wants us to ask him for healing,' " Lerner said. "You did that once, and the consequences were tragic."

Lerner said the couple "knowingly, intentionally, hypocritically and callously violated" the most important term of their probation. But he did not detain them Monday because their remaining seven children already had been removed from the home by the Department of Human Services. The couple could face five to 10 years in prison for the probation violation.

"You are not a danger to the community," Lerner said. "You are a danger to your children."

The Schaibles declined to speak during the brief hearing and shuffled silently to the elevators at the Criminal Justice Center afterward.

Calls to the First Century Gospel Church were not returned. In the "Messages" section of the church's website, a chapter called "Healing - From God or Medicine?" cites interpretations of Scripture that supposedly bolster their beliefs in faith healing.

"Medical insurance, hospital fees, and prescription costs today are enormous," one passage says, "but a believer receives healing for free."

Rick A. Ross, a New Jersey-based researcher of religions and cults, said tougher child-welfare laws and exposure from the Internet have put more scrutiny on faith-based healing groups.

"Parents may believe whatever they want," Ross said Monday, "but that doesn't mean they can neglect their children to death in the name of God."

A neighbor of the Schaibles who did not want his name published said Herbert and Catherine Schaible are decent people who raise great kids. They just have one flaw.

"The only thing I can say bad about them is they never took them to the hospital," the man said. "They have one flaw, and this one flaw should make them go to jail."

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