Judge allows bail for faith-healing mom

Pas­tors testi­fy they did not tell the Schaibles to fore­go med­ic­al care for ail­ing son. 

  • Herbert Schaible

  • Catherine Schaible

Her­bert and Cath­er­ine Schaible’s pas­tor test­i­fied in court on Fri­day that he asked the Rhawn­hurst couple about con­tact­ing a med­ic­al clin­ic or their pro­ba­tion of­ficer for their ail­ing 7-month-old son, Brandon, days be­fore the in­fant died of pneu­mo­nia in the ab­sence of med­ic­al care.

Pas­tor Nel­son Clark of the First Cen­tury Gos­pel Church in Ju­ni­ata Park test­i­fied that he spoke with Her­bert by tele­phone twice in the days lead­ing up to the boy’s April 18 death. The boy’s fath­er al­legedly re­fused to seek pro­fes­sion­al help, however, cit­ing his be­lief that Brandon’s fate should rest with God.

The church’s as­sist­ant pas­tor, Ral­ph My­ers, vis­ited the Schaibles twice that week to pray with them for “the heal­ing of the child.” On the second vis­it, Brandon “was dead be­fore I got there,” My­ers told the court.

Both par­ents face third-de­gree murder charges in con­nec­tion with the in­fant’s death. Last Thursday, Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Ben­jamin Lern­er re­fused to lift a de­tain­er on Her­bert Schaible that would have al­lowed him to be re­leased on $250,000 bail pending a tri­al.

But, on Fri­day, Lern­er lif­ted a sim­il­ar de­tain­er on Cath­er­ine after her fath­er agreed to post 10 per­cent of the bail amount and as­sume re­spons­ib­il­ity for Cath­er­ine’s com­pli­ance with house ar­rest.

The church lead­ers each told the court that they had not in­struc­ted the Schaibles to fore­go pro­fes­sion­al med­ic­al care, al­though some mem­bers of their church be­lieve in so-called faith heal­ing.

“The be­lief is if we mis­place our trust on any­thing but God, then we be­tray God,” My­ers ex­plained un­der ques­tion­ing by As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Joanne Pes­catore.

Later un­der cross-ex­am­in­a­tion, My­ers said, “I think [the Schaibles] were just try­ing to fol­low the let­ter of the scrip­ture.”

Clark test­i­fied that Her­bert ex­plained the couple’s reas­on­ing in one tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion: “[Her­bert said] that if he would call any­one, it would be a deni­al of his faith in God heal­ing the child. … I felt he could let someone know without deny­ing his faith.”

My­ers fur­ther stated that some church mem­bers do seek med­ic­al help when they are sick. The Schaibles, he said, would not have been shunned by the con­greg­a­tion.

The Schaibles and First Cen­tury Church made head­lines in 2009 when the couple al­lowed an­oth­er son, 2-year-old Kent, to die un­der sim­il­ar cir­cum­stances. They were con­victed of in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter in 2011 and sen­tenced to 10 years pro­ba­tion with a re­quire­ment that they seek med­ic­al care for any of their oth­er chil­dren when they be­came ill. The Schaibles have sev­en sur­viv­ing chil­dren, ages 8 to 17, who have been in foster care since the par­ents’ latest ar­rests.

Re­gard­less of the church’s stance on faith-heal­ing, its lead­ers also preach that wives are sub­or­din­ate to their hus­bands. Cath­er­ine Schaible’s de­fense at­tor­ney, My­thri Ja­yara­man, at­temp­ted to use that church teach­ing to di­vert blame from her cli­ent.

Clark test­i­fied that wives should de­fer to the hus­band’s lead­er­ship ac­cord­ing to the church’s doc­trine, al­though wives may be in­volved in fam­ily de­cision-mak­ing.

“The hus­band is the head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the church,” the pas­tor said. “[Cath­er­ine] would have a say, but she wouldn’t make the de­cision.”

Later in the hear­ing, My­ers test­i­fied that, “The wife can cer­tainly have her opin­ion, but in this case it didn’t go that way.”

Pes­catore, the pro­sec­utor, ar­gued that Cath­er­ine is as culp­able as her hus­band in Brandon’s death.

“She is the child’s moth­er and he is the fath­er. They both have equal re­spons­ib­il­ity no mat­ter what the church teaches,” Pes­catore ar­gued.

Ac­cord­ing to Clark, the Schaibles had been tak­ing their chil­dren to a loc­al med­ic­al clin­ic in ac­cord­ance with their pro­ba­tion pri­or to Brandon’s ill­ness, in­clud­ing one in­stance when a 14-year-old son wasn’t feel­ing well.

“The doc­tor re­com­men­ded a hot shower and a hot bowl of soup,” Clark said.

Lern­er cited sev­er­al factors in grant­ing Cath­er­ine Schaible house ar­rest, des­pite keep­ing her hus­band be­hind bars. She is less of a flight risk be­cause her fath­er is post­ing bail and would have to for­feit the full amount were she to flee pro­sec­u­tion. Wil­li­am Richard Wake­field told Lern­er that he would use $25,000 from a per­son­al bank ac­count to pay for his daugh­ter’s re­lease.

Lern­er fur­ther noted that it’s in the chil­dren’s best in­terests to have reg­u­lar su­per­vised con­tact with at least one of their par­ents. He per­mit­ted Cath­er­ine to leave her par­ents’ home at an un­dis­closed Roosevelt Boulevard ad­dress only to ap­pear in court, to vis­it her at­tor­ney and to see her chil­dren.  

Both Schaibles are sched­uled for ar­raign­ments and pre­lim­in­ary hear­ings on Aug. 7. •• 

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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