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Judge tosses charge against pastor in faith-healing death

“A judge on Wednesday ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge the leader of a church that rejects modern medicine, but prosecutors said they would try again to bring him to trial in the pneumonia death of his granddaughter … 2-year-old Ella Foster… Hours after the district judge’s decision, the district attorney’s office said it planned to refile the felony count. [Rev. Rowland] Foster, 72, serves as pastor of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, part of a fundamentalist Christian sect that instructs members to eschew treatment by physicians and the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Prosecutors argue he should have reported the girl’s condition to authorities because state law requires ministers to report suspected abuse. The girl’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and await trial. They have relinquished custody of their six other children, but have not commented on the allegations. The church’s stance against modern medicine has resulted in the deaths over the years of dozens of children from preventable or treatable illnesses, most in Pennsylvania, according to an advocacy group that tracks faith-based medical neglect. Their members have said they hope the pastor’s prosecution might spur change in a church that has resisted it. Defense attorney Chris Ferro said after the hearing that ‘there’s just a lack of evidence all the way around.’ …Ella Foster likely suffered from severely labored breathing and a temperature of about 104 on the day she died, police said in charging documents. Dr. Neil Hoffman, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, called her condition ‘quite easily or eminently treatable’ and said she almost certainly would have survived had she been given antibiotics. He said she would have had severely labored breathing and a bad cough for at least a day before she died. …The pastor told police he has never been to a doctor. He did not testify at the preliminary hearing and did not comment afterward. A few dozen supporters attended the hearing, some softly singing hymns in the rural central Pennsylvania court building.” (The Associate Press, 04/20/17) [8.3]Faith Tabernacle Congregation
Child’s Death Allegedly Due to Faith Healing Belief
Philadelphia police believe that 9-year-old Benjamin Reinert, whose family belongs to the Faith Tabernacle Congregation—which relies on prayer rather than medical care—died following a broken ankle that went untreated. Social workers, answering an anonymous call, twice advised the family to seek medical assistance, but did not remove the child from his home because it did not appear that he had been abused and his injuries did not seem life-threatening. [csr 2.1 2003]

In the 1990s, a number of Faith Tabernacle members have faced criminal charges for failing to seek medical care for their sick children. One couple was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 17 years’ probation for not treating their hemophiliac infant. Another got 14 months’ probation for not seeking treatment for their 2-year-old’s cancer; he survived under court-ordered care. And in 1991 five children died in a measles outbreak. (Clea Benson, Philadelphia Inquirer, Internet, 1/21/03) [csr 2.1 2003]

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