Herbert Schaible looked relieved yesterday morning after leaving the Philadelphia courtroom where he and his wife, Catherine, had just been sentenced to 10 years of probation rather than to prison for refusing to get medical help to prevent their son's death.
"I think it was fair because, obviously, she had it within her power to make it more harsh," he said of the sentence handed down by Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Engel Temin.
Herbert, 42, and Catherine, 41, members of a Juniata Park church that shuns medicine in favor of prayer to heal the sick, were found guilty in December of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.
Their son, Kent, 2, died in their Rhawnhurst home Jan. 24, 2009, of bacterial pneumonia after his parents prayed for his recovery for 10 days rather than seeking medical care. The death was ruled a homicide because the child could have been saved with basic medical care, according to the city medical examiner.
Although the maximum sentence that both Schaibles faced was 8 1/2 to 17 years in prison, Temin took into account their characters, their lack of criminal records and their having seven children ages 1 to 15 to raise.
Despite their religious-freedom rights, Temin told them, the law requires that they take care of their children when sick.
The couple will have to report in person to a probation officer for two years, then by phone for three years, Temin ordered. They will not report for the last five years.
Also each of their children must be examined by a medical professional within a month, followup visits must be scheduled if recommended and, if a child gets sick before age 18, the couple must consult with a doctor and follow all advice, the judge ruled.
"We have no problem letting someone examine our children, because God will show that they are perfectly healthy," Herbert said.
The couple's pastor, Nelson Ambrose Clark, of First Century Gospel Church, said the judge showed "compassion" for the family. The ruling, he said, "will allow the Schaibles to practice their faith in God."
Founded in 1925, First Century Gospel Church teaches that medicine and hospitals are dangerous and that reliance on them over prayer indicates a lack of faith in God. Since 1971, nearly two dozen children from First Century and Faith Tabernacle Congregation, another faith-healing church, have died of preventable, treatable illnesses, according to Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty Inc., an Iowa-based watchdog group.
"The judge took a lot of time fashioning a sentence appropriate for these circumstances," said Bobby Hoof, Herbert Schaible's attorney. "We are confident our client will abide by the judge's order and there will be no problems."
"I think it was a fair sentence," said attorney Mythri Jayarman, who represented Catherine Schaible. "The Schaibles will do what they were ordered to do. The most important thing is the safety of the children."
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said she, too, was satisfied with the sentence.