Investigation launched in Philadelphia after faith-healing couple lose a second child

AUTHORITIES in Philadelphia have launched an investigation to ascertain whether religion was at the root of the death of an eight-month-old boy whose parents were convicted for the involuntary manslaughter in 2009 of their two-year-old son, Kent.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of a fundamentalist Christian church that believes that prayer is more effective than medical treatment, were serving ten years’ probation after being found guilty of failing to seek treatment for Kent.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible

Herbert and Catherine Schaible

Last week they lost their another child Brandon after he suffered from diarrhoea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that a decision on charges will be made after they get the results of an autopsy.

At a hearing Monday, a judge told the couple they had violated the terms of their probation, noting the Schaibles had told investigators that they prayed to God to make Brandon well instead of seeking medical attention.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said:

You did that once, and the consequences were tragic.

Prosecutors on Monday sought to have the couple jailed, but Lerner permitted them to remain free because their seven other children had been placed in foster care.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted the couple in 2010, said:

He [Lerner] feels they are a danger to their children – not to the community, but to their own children.

Herbert Schaible, 44, and his 43-year-old wife grew up in the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church’s website has a sermon titled “Healing – From God or Medicine?” that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine. The message declares:

It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing.

Catherine Schaible’s attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, cautioned against a rush to judgment, and said the couple are good parents deeply distraught over the loss of another child.

There are way more questions than answers at this point. We haven’t seen the autopsy report. We don’t know the cause of death of this child. What we do know is Mr and Mrs Schaible are distraught, they are grieving, they are tremendously sad about the loss of their most recent baby.

According to this report, about a dozen children die in faith-healing cases each year in the United States.

Hat tip: DC Brighton & Angela K

48 responses to “Investigation launched in Philadelphia after faith-healing couple lose a second child”

  1. Stephen Mynett says:

    What planet is their attorney on, saying they are good parents, they have allowed two of their children to die without seeking medical help. The cause of death here is irrelevant, they allowed the child to suffer for a week without seeking help.

    There are times when freedom of belief is taken too far and sometimes must be combatted with seemingly draconian measures. The children of all memebers of this church should be put up for adoption as they are all in danger from their natural parents.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    First Century Gospel Church.

    Says it all, really.

  3. Marky Mark says:

    (The children of all memebers of this church should be put up for adoption as they are all in danger from their natural parents.)
    …I agree 100%

  4. barriejohn says:

    Why do they call it faith healing? No one is ever healed.

  5. Stephen Mynett says:

    Why do they call it faith healing?
    Probably for the same reason you hear people say gospel truth.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Amanda Winters, a journalist doing a series of articles on Bethel Church, interviewed me for a scientific view of these faith healings. She asked me some very incisive questions and understood my answers. She wrote what I thought was a balanced article, quoting me fairly and at more length than reporters usually allow.

    Her article features a patient who believed his flat feet would be healed (bones would crack and form an arch). Healers poked him, blew a shofar at his feet, and covered him with a blanket when he collapsed on the floor. When he got up, his feet were unchanged. But

    “his faith was not shaken, he said, because he felt so loved and maybe the physical healing was secondary to the spiritual experience he had.”

  7. barriejohn says:

    SM: Or spiritual wisdom, perhaps!

  8. sailor1031 says:

    This clip is not faith-healing but it is driving-out-a-demon, which is often much the same thing to fundies…anyway, as you see, it works – the demon leaves


    But seriously, I think I understand it all at last. When you are christian nothing good can ever happen because the world, and you, are completely corrupted. Therefore it’s all shit all the time. By praying, you can maybe get doG to alleviate some of the shit for a short time. Therefore anytime you get less than 100% shit your prayers have been successful. In reality most don’t get 100% shit. So therefore prayer works.

    Better to be an atheist I think and just get an average 50% shit/50% not shit……..

  9. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    This couple haven’t “lost” a second child, due to their negligence a second child has been allowed to die. As parents, they are unfit. Not only should the rest of their children be taken into care, they should be forcibly sterilised to stop them from having any more.

    And don’t forget, they are currently serving 10 years probation for the earlier negligent death. This time they should be put away, they obviously aren’t learning anything.

  10. Lazy Susan says:

    I wonder if Ken would like to comment on this case.

  11. tony e says:

    This could happen to a third child and these buffoons would still rely on the power of prayer.

    I don’t think they will learn anything from this.

  12. Angela_K says:

    @Lazy Susan. I seem to remember on an old thread Ken has seen/knows of people who have been cured by prayer.

    Those who claim “faith healing” works are either liars, deluded or the ill person would have got better anyway. As we’ve said many times before: Amputees are never cured by prayer are they?

  13. Broga says:

    @Lazy Susan: Ken, already deeply emotionally unbalanced in his futile attempts to justify his crazy beliefs, tends to disappear until the heat dies down in cases like this. Then he reappears and with the selectivity and prejudice of the typical Christian, offers some more daft comments. I don’t think coming to this site is doing much good for what little is left of his mental health.

    So this pathetic pair are distraught are they? With whom? Has their God failed them again? Do they attach any blame to him? Despite being the most neglectful of parents they do keep breeding. Seven children already. How many more to arrive?

  14. Lurker111 says:

    Toxic mental illness. Permanent institutionalization is the treatment.

  15. barriejohn says:

    Angela_K: This guy has evidence that “God” cures amputees.

    Yes – you will search that site in vain for the elusive “evidence”, because:

    An amputee who receives the renewal of their limb will not be believed by mockers and skeptics. They mocked Jesus then, and they mock Jesus now. There are stories of amputees receiving restoration in Jesus’ name, but the skeptics do not want to believe and will not believe even if one rose from the dead to warn them to avoid coming to hell.

    No point in wasting valuable time posting the evidence then, because those wicked atheists won’t believe it! I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Just look at some of the other comments as well. Even if “God” doesn’t heal the body, he “heals the spirit”, which is MUCH more important; but several allude to the fact that WHEN THEY ARE RESURRECTED, “believing” amputees will have their limbs restored. Are there words to describe such idiocy?

  16. Stephen Mynett says:

    Are there words to describe such idiocy?

    Faith, blind faith and Ken.

  17. AgentCormac says:


    Some of the comments on that site are priceless:

    “I was born with a deficiency where I could not digest milk at all because my body was missing a certain enzyme. Even the tiniest bit of milk or something with milk in it would cause me to throw up violently. The doctors said that I suffered from an extreme case of it and would always be like that. My mom kept telling me God was going to heal me. Finally when I was seven, this preacher prayed for me and instantly my body was healed. The enzyme that was missing, God instantly put it there.”

    “I recently posted 30 testimonies of near death experiences including about a dozen people raised from the dead after more than 10 minutes of cardiac arrest. Several of them were raised from the dead 3 days later, one was already embalmed.”

    Embalmed!!! You’ve gotta laugh!

  18. barriejohn says:

    Too funny for words, Agent Cormac:

    God has healed amputees or the maimed. Matthew 15:30-31

    Game, set and match!

  19. Rudolf Zupan says:

    Nothing fails like prayer. I hope they get sick too.

  20. Barry Duke says:

    OK, sceptics, here’s evidence of the power of prayer. A few days ago a woman called in on a phone-in on Talk Radio Europe, Spain, asking for listeners to pray for a friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer.

    Yesterday, she called again, to thank those for their prayers, which God, she claimed, had answered.

    On returning to the hospital for further tests, her friend was found to be completely free of cancer!

    Staff, she said, had accidentally given her friend the results of another patient, and had offered a grovelling apology.

    It was, she crowed, “a miracle”. And – get this – the presenter agreed!

  21. JohnMWhite says:

    So that other patient, who had been previously given the all-clear, now gets cancer and it’s all seemingly thanks to the prayers of these pious people? Nice job!

    This is one of the things that truly worries me about religious faith: it is utterly self-centred.

  22. Ken says:

    Lazy Susan – since you asked.

    I think everyone would agree this is a tragedy for all concerned.

    I had a quick look at a sermon at their church on ‘healing from God or medicine’. I’ve met all this before largely on the fringes of the charismatic/pentecostal sector.

    i) That God heals today I do not doubt, but he has not covenanted to, or made any unconditional promise, healing is discretionary. They quote (as so many do) for example Ps 103 – ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases’, not understanding the parallelism between forgiveness and healing, the latter being a metaphor of the former. It is certainly not an unconditional promise of universal healing, not in this life anyway. SAB gets this wrapped round its neck too.

    ii) I don’t believe ‘prayer’ heals or in ‘faith healing’, rather divine healing. Prayer may be made in faith (with an attitude of personal trust), but there is no formula to obtain the healing. OTOH God does not honour blatant unbelief.

    iii) The miraculous and claims to experience it attract religious charlatans and false teachers almost like nothing else. cf. Matt 7 : 21-3.

    iv) I don’t see a negative attitude to medicine in the bible (‘Luke, the beloved physician’), nor supernatural healing being set against the normal healing mechanisms designed for the body and which can be supplemented with modern medicine.

    V) I have a very limited amount of sympathy with their dislike of the modern pharmaceutical industry pumping a dependent population full of pills and potions, often to keep the shareholders happy with the profits. That is not, however, principled opposition to medicine.

    vi) I’m also wary of the rush to get the state involved. It is perfectly laudible to want to avoid people harming themselves and especially others, but should the state also intervene with smokers who have children, those who drink or take ‘recreational’ drugs, or enforce a puritan sex ethic to prevent the disease and early death in the form of STD’s spread by promiscuity, and so on? Intervention might well have been right in this instance, but where do personal responsibility and freedom come into this?

  23. Broga says:

    @Ken: Regarding promiscuity: Question: “What is the difference between herpes and romantic love?” Answer: “Herpes lasts for ever.”

  24. Cameryn says:

    WOW. Send the religious freaks to jail!!!!

  25. Matt Westwood says:

    “The children of all memebers of this church should be put up for adoption as they are all in danger from their natural parents.”

    No, all the adults who attend this church should be sterilised.

  26. AgentCormac says:


    “God heals today I do not doubt, but he has not covenanted to, or made any unconditional promise, healing is discretionary.”

    Please give evidence of any healing that you can attribute directly to your god. Anything. No matter how discretionary.

  27. Lazy Susan says:

    Ken, if you are sure that God heals today, how can you tell? What are the features of God healing that distinguish it from any other kind?

    Or do you just define all healing as God healing?

    Or do you just have faith that God healing must be going on somewhere?

  28. Robster says:

    Ken, are you Barbie’s Ken? You do have much in common.

  29. Angela_K says:

    Here is Ken on a previous thread:
    “Interesting, Angela_K, you pit science and the bible against each other. There’s nothing wrong with science, but it deals with issues other than the existence of God, who would have to be part of the physical universe to be knowable through science. (It’s a huge subject and not one that interests me that much.)”

    We’ll never get a straight answer from him, he CANNOT provide any evidence to support his claims of god’s existence or “healing” and neither can anyone else. He claims to “know” god exists, which is a pretty meaningless statement rather like saying I know the Loch Ness monster exists. Ken, like so many believers does not – and indeed does not want to – understand the scientific method; his mind is set and anything that challenges his belief is ignored.

  30. Daz says:


    Oh, come now, that’s unfair! Barbie’s Ken is silent and unlikely to breed…

  31. Ex Patriot says:

    “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” Mark Twain

  32. Ken says:

    Lazy Susan – I’ll give you one specific example from my own experience. It’s a long time ago, but the gist is that Christian friends had a daughter with a curved/deformed spine. A visiting speaker at some kind of celebration prayed for her to be healed. When due to be prepared for surgery sometime later, the consultant examining her said ‘I see you have already been operated on’, meaning the deformity had completely gone. As far as I know, it has never come back. Furthermore, the parents, not wanting to make any bogus claim to divine healing, specifically prayed that it would be very clear that healing had taken place, in the event confirmed by the consultant. (What he made of it I don’t know). The parents didn’t want to be deceived into thinking healing had occurred, cancelling surgery only to find the problem was actually still there.

    This wasn’t a case of healing of an ailment that didn’t actually exist in the first place, nor a claim made that healing had occurred with no medical examination by someone suitably qualified, nor a case of ‘symptoms’ disappearing due to suggestion, which can be the case.

    My wife reminded me of this not long ago for some reason, I had completely forgotten about it. It’s not the only case I have personally known, but they have been pretty rare.
    I used to think, uncomfortably close to the views of the church involved here, that healing was part of the gospel, but I’ve changed my mind on that. It’s not a right, something that can be claimed, but it can and does still happen. It is the result of faith, rather than the cause of it.

    From the Christian point of view, there is a balance to be struck between gullibility over miraculous claims, wishful thinking and exaggeration, and undue scepticism which could be covert unbelief being revealed. (cf. Matthew 13:58 and parallels)

    If Genesis 1:1 is true, and it is, the rest follows.

  33. remigius says:

    ‘My wife reminded me of this not long ago for some reason, I had completely forgotten about it.’

    Ken, are you seriously telling us that you had come across not only proof of a gods existence, but actual proof that he/she/it intercedes and heals – and then you forgot about it!

    And the parents of the miraculously god-healed child kept it quiet. The church/healer didn’t crow about it. The doctors at the hospital just shrugged it off.

    Bollocks, Ken. If something like that actually happened it would have made the news around the world.

    Are you lying for Jesus, or just deluding yourself?

  34. Broga says:

    @Ken: So your omniscient God changed his mind? Why did he allow the injury in the first place if he was going to remedy it? What about all the disabled, starving, sexually abused (often by his priests), slaughtered children he doesn’t save? Do you really think the most powerful creature in the Cosmos is going to pay any attention to the pitiful whining of microbes such as ourselves? Why help only this child? Couldn’t we have some kind of double blind trial?

    Your story is not just incredible. It is offensive garbish. And you reveal your readiness to invent by saying your wife reminded you. Someone with your fundamentalist beliefs would never forget something like that. It never happened. It is a fairy story. I don’t believe you.

  35. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    If Genesis 1:1 is true, and it is, the rest follows.

    And if Genesis 1:1 is false, and it is, the rest is bollocks.

  36. Ken says:

    Broga – I appreciated your honesty in saying you thought I was lying rather than being all British and beating around the bush!

    i) Why this person healed? – Believing Christian parents asked, i.e. prayed for healing and attended a meeting where someone with a real expectation prayed for healing. Not claimed as a right, nor dictating how healing, if any, should be received. But if you don’t ask, you will never receive.

    ii) So prayer is the way the most powerful person in the cosmos pays attention to us – if we meet the conditions.

    iii) However, no double blind trial is possible. This makes God part of the universe subject to scientific investigation, a way of thinking atheists seem unable or unwilling to get away from. There’s no formula guaranteeing results. Christians don’t pray to see if God is there, but answered prayer is a confirmation of the reality of God being there.

    iv) I must have forgotten the details of plenty of answered prayer, including this one. Most miraculous answers such as there are occur privately amongst believers in my experience, a strenthenging of their faith. Another healing I remember in a different church when a couple called upon the leaders to pray (James 5 refers) was kept private by the pastor (though not secret). At the time, I wondered why, and he said to ‘prevent people coming to the church for the wrong reasons’. I now see what he was getting at, healing is not a right, there are more important issues than just physical well-being. Because God intervenes in one person’s life does not mean he will do the same with someone else, he doesn’t owe any of us anything, we are hopelessly in debt to him. Our primary need is forgivenness and reconciliation.

    v) I’ve known unanswered prayer and/or people who have not been healed, indeed have died (including near family and friends), but the reasons for this belong to an in-house discussion amongst Christians. There is no simple answer to this, and I don’t think we can have a full answer in this life.

    Healing is a sign of something yet future, when sickness is finally banished, but we can’t have this yet due to human sinfulness. Righteousness is the prerequisite.

    If you think ‘seeing a miracle’ would of itself convert you from unbelief, you are very mistaken (though I used to assume this would be the case). It might have that effect, but it could also have the opposite effect. ‘If you don’t believe Moses and the prophets, neither will you believe if someone should rise from the dead’.

  37. Broga says:

    @Ken: Fascinating. But prayer is still asking an omniscient being to change its mind. Can’t you understand the implications of that statement?

  38. Broga says:

    Winning the lottery through prayer. A devout christian, just like Ken, keeps praying for years that he will win the lottery. Like other christians he doesn’t buy into the “blessed are the poor” stuff. That for theory. No luck. He doesn’t win and dies and meets God. He says to God, “I was one of your followers. I prayed every day to win the lottery. Why didn’t let me win?”

    God says, “You could at least have met me half way and bought a ticket.”

  39. Lazy Susan says:

    Ken – I understand that a double blind trial of a capricious god is not possible. But a statistical analysis after the events have occurred should, if prayer works, reveal that it has been working in the past. I don’t mean the distant past – lets say the last 20 years.

    If you are right then, after correcting for cultural differences such as medical care, sanitation, nutrition, etc, there should be a statistically significant difference in outcomes of people who pray to a god that exists (even if it only occasionally answers these prayers), and those who don’t pray or who pray to a non-existent god. But that would be an objective test of the efficacy of prayer (and of the existence of god). I assume you would argue that no such objective test is possible, or rather, that any such test would fail to detect anything – the null hypothesis would be accepted.

    If the null hypothesis is accepted, then the options are: (1) said god does not exist, or (2) said god intervenes uniformly on all people everywhere regardless of prayer, or (3) said god knew that the study would be done and for the last 20 years avoided answering any prayers, so as to undermine the study and keep hidden.

    (3) is hard to accept, because for the last 20 years people who believe have been saying that their prayers were being answered.

    Which of these alternatives would you opt for?

    I expect you have already seen this: Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer by Francis Galton, Fortnightly Review vol. 12, pp. 125-35, 1872.

  40. Broga says:

    @Lazy Susan: Another option from 2,000 years ago comes from Epicurus: the gods are far away and have neither interest in nor involvement in human life. Epicurus, whom I admire and has come to be much misunderstood, is far ahead in his thinking of Ken and co.

  41. Lazy Susan says:

    Broga – Epicurus might be a subdivision of (2) where god ignores everyone equally. There may be other alternatives, eg god answers some prayers but also smites others to keep the statistics neutral.

    Take your pick!

  42. Matt Westwood says:

    It’s perfectly simple.

    Suppose all football players were religious. (It may be true, it would not surprise me.) Suppose that every football player prays that their team win. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that every team wins at least one match in the season. Then it stands to reason, God answers prayers.

  43. Angela_K says:

    @Ken: “However, no double blind trial is possible. This makes God part of the universe subject to scientific investigation, a way of thinking atheists seem unable or unwilling to get away from”

    If your god is capable of divine intervention and able to heal the sick through prayer then the only way to test this is by praying for one group and not praying for another and see which has the greater gain in recovery – this test has already been performed and shown the prayed-for group did worse!

    If your god is able to meet your claim of intervention then he/she/it must be part of our Universe and therefore detectable. There is only one way to test a theory/claim/proposition and that is by the scientific method, nothing else works, something you fail to understand. You should read Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted world” where he describes an invisible Dragon in his garage as an example of the dishonest methods used by the religious to claim their god exists even though there is no evidence. Saying that your god exists and is a healer but you [scientists] can’t prove it, is childishness in the extreme.

  44. Groover says:

    Don’t talk to or indulge Ken. He’s feckin mental.

  45. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    I think the best answer to Ken is this video.

  46. Lazy Susan says:

    Ken – Another possible explanation: god messes with our minds so that we cannot think straight to do the statistical analysis. That would be rather mean of the old bugger if you ask me.

    I’m sure you can – nay, will – come up with some other explanation.

  47. Ken says:

    i) Biblical prayer is not to a capricious God, rather a sovereign one, one under no obligation to men. A person rather than an impersonal ‘it’ or force that can be manipulated.

    ii) As for science, anecdotal evidence for prayer is fine, but not a scientific experiment. Prayer is more than just for healing. Read a Christian biography or two. God cannot be placed under human control, and in this sense forbides us to put him to the test in both OT and NT.
    Other factors are involved apart from the mere asking itself. You cannot receive something God has never promised. Unbelief may be a problem, unconfessed sin in both those praying or those being prayed for. The motives are also important – the only loving motive for praying for the sick is compassion that their suffering may be alleviated, not putting God to the test or boasting about what faith you must have. Only God has exhaustive knowledge of all factors involved. There is often a fine line between expectant faith and presumption. (The latter, coupled with ignorance, probably factor in the tragedy in this thread.)

    iii) I enjoyed the YouTube about the jug of milk and answered prayer. I think most thinking believers recognise the possibility of coincidence, although just how many coincidences have to occur before this starts to become absurd is an interesting question. The jug of course could not miraculously intervene in demonstrable power, and is therefore irrelevant to that kind of answered prayer. There is of course no real analogy between a personal God and impersonal carton of milk.

    iv) Angele_K – I’ve read about Sagan and the dragon in his garage. The problem with it is that is assumes the Christian faith by definition has no evidence for it, which simply isn’t true. There is no analogy between a dragon, the Lochness monster, the tooth fairy and Santa and belief in the existence of God. No-one actually believes in the former, but many believe in the latter, and adult converts to the faith can hardly be said to be carrying on with childish beliefs they held before age 10.

    To what extent science can deal with the God question is a moot point, but for me a method for investigating the natural material world cannot investigate spiritual realities. I’m not sure to what extent atheists really believe it can, as they inconsistently will reject ID as being non-scientific ‘creationism by the back door’, but will accept Dawkins’ God hyphothesis as something that science can settle. My view is science may testify to the existence of God (the ordered cosmos shouts this), but you will never learn in this life what God is like by science, because the means of attaining this knowledge is under God’s control (as you would expect).