In what is thought to be the first prosecution of its kind, Pennsylvania pastor Rowland Foster, above left, has been charged in connection with the death his own granddaughter who died from medical neglect.
According to this report, Foster is pastor for the fundamentalist Faith Tabernacle Congregation which insists that adherents place their trust in God alone for healing.
As a result, dozens of children, mostly in Pennsylvania, have died of preventable and treatable illnesses.
This prosecution is raising hopes among some advocates that it might effect changes in a church that has long resisted it.
Church members reject modern medicine as a bedrock tenet of their faith, even as some have faced manslaughter charges in child deaths dating back 35 years.
Until now, though, no leader in the sect has ever faced charges.
With a routine course of antibiotics, two-year-old Ella Foster would have almost certainly beaten the pneumonia that took her life last November.
But her parents refused medical care, and she succumbed shortly after they asked Foster to anoint her.
Foster has been charged charged with a felony under a state law requiring clergy members, teachers and other “mandated reporters” to turn the names of suspected child abusers over to authorities for investigation.
The law makes no exception for clergy who happen to be related to the abused child, as Foster was to Ella.
Most states have similar laws that require clergy to report abuse.
Berks County District Attorney John Adams, whose office is prosecuting Foster, said:
He was well aware of the fact that this child was in need of medical treatment and he never reported it, nor do I believe that he ever had the intention to report it.
Cathleen Palm, of the Pennsylvania-based Center for Children’s Justice, said she hopes the prosecution, at a minimum, will spur action in the Legislature to protect children whose parents don’t seek necessary medical care based on religion.
Neither Foster nor his attorney returned calls for comment.
Ella’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, were charged earlier with involuntary manslaughter and await trial. Police have said Jonathan Foster attributed Ella’s death to “God’s will”.
The reclusive sect, founded in Philadelphia more than a century ago, does not give media interviews.
At the Faith Tabernacle church and school campus in Mechanicsburg, where Rowland Foster is the pastor, an Associated Press reporter who entered the building was quickly ordered to leave. An older man who accepted a letter seeking comment from church officials promised to shred it.