Why Did the Schaibles Let Their Children Die?

The DA says Herbert and Catherine Shaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church, watched their two sons die because they refused to let them see a doctor. The Schaibles have another explanation: It was God’s will.

To some extent, Nelson Clark has been down this road before. In the early ’90s, there was a measles outbreak among the children in the Faith Tabernacle and First Century congregations. (Clark’s grandfather was a member of Faith Tabernacle, a similar church, before leaving to found First Century.) Five Faith Tabernacle children died; First Century lost one. No one faced legal trouble, but the city’s health commissioner ordered medical teams to go door-to-door in the affected neighborhoods to check on children. Pastor Clark remembers it well. His son Ambrose—his only child—had recovered by the time a doctor knocked on their door on Front Street.

This time, it’s different. Pastor Clark is worried that assistant district attorney Joanne Pescatore, who is trying the third-degree murder case against Herbert and Catherine Schaible, wants to close down his church.

At the end of August, I spend a second afternoon with Pastor Clark in his home. His tone has shifted. Early on, right after the Schaibles were arrested last spring, his attitude with the press seemed practically cocksure. He insisted that Herbie Schaible, as decision-maker for his family, would never call a doctor if another of his children became sick. “Oh no,” Pastor Clark told a reporter, “that thought would never enter his mind.”




It must now, he says. Recently, Pastor Clark was visiting Cathy at her parents’ home; some of her children came for a supervised visit, and little Nolie, now four years old, rushed into her arms on a dead run and would not let go. “Herb will have to speak for himself in court,” Pastor Clark says. “He’ll have to convince both courts, family and criminal, that he’s sorry that he didn’t follow the court orders—though he’s not sorry that he followed God.” If he doesn’t, Pastor Clark says, there is no hope: The Schaible family will be ruined. Little Nolie and his brothers and sisters will be lost, lost to the world.

Both Herbie and Cathy now seem halfway convinced, Pastor Clark says, that following the court’s orders for medical care doesn’t mean they don't trust in God, though Cathy might be the harder parent to break. “She is so exacting,” Pastor Clark laments. “She can’t get past that point.” She told her pastor: “If I literally place my child in a nurse’s hands, you are telling me I didn’t do it? But I did do it.” Clark says, “She struggles with that.”

It’s a strange irony—a pastor urging a congregant to relax in terms of a church belief in order to save her family. And it also gives a window into Cathy, who is described by everyone within the church as quiet and kind and devoted and always deferential to her husband. But she can also come off as hopelessly withdrawn and indecisive. Even her lawyer and social workers assigned to her can never divine what she’s thinking, or whether she even knows her own mind. But perhaps it is time to let our judgment rest: After all, shouldn’t people who say they are living as they wish be left alone to do exactly that?

The answer isn’t so obvious when two children are dead.

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  • J joseph

    Praise Jesus Christ for someone in this wicked world still believes and demonstrates faith for the healing of body.

    • Chrissy

      I agree with this comment^^

    • ChuckV

      When it takes letting your child die of a treatable disease to show your faith, something is very wrong with your faith.

  • J Joseph

    If nothing is at stake, there is no faith required.

  • leppy240

    they are only doing what they have been taught all their lives. I am pretty sure they never expected the kids to die. they are good people under some messed up teaching.

  • S.I. Rosenbaum

    wow. What I want to know is why this is not taken to other extremes. Why don’t you say, the lord will provide food without us ever going shopping, and then wait for food to arrive? How is that different from the faith required to eschew medicine for the sick?

    I also want to know how they explain people getting better by taking medicine, without prayer. Is that the work of satan? did God favor those people for some reason without them knowing it?

    there is something about the relationship between god and bodies that makes faith healing different from waiting for groceries? Is there something fortifying about the death of these children?

    • PsychicSecretary

      Exactly. Why do we need the artificiality of food to be nourished?

      Whatever this is, it is not Christianity, which does not require human perfection for God to hear our prayers.

      And how can these churchgoers claim genealogies are not important? Have they read Genesis, Numbers, I Chronicles or Matthew?

  • hagdirt

    I was taught that God works with human hands.

  • Georgina Yang

    Miracles work through a Messiah, currently dead for the last two thousand years. The rest of the time we are bound to plebeian laws of nature.

    • Michael

      I can’t say I agree with what these people did, but in reponse to this comment:
      Newsflash: Jesus is alive.

  • kc49

    Since they opt not to wear seatbelts, I would like to know if they lock their doors.

  • Antonette

    Using their logic that using seat belts is an affront to God, saying that you don’t trust him, then using crosswalks would be too. Or obeying red lights, or not walking into traffic or trying to put out a fire that’s burning down your house …

  • DRig

    I have faith in a Christian God too, but I have faith that He has also empowered us to be able to care for ourselves. If you believe that God is all-powerful, then why can’t you believe that people have vaccines, medicines and seat belts because that is God’s will and He created intelligent people, empowered to do these things to protect us?
    Have faith and trust in God, but also understand it may be His will that you get antibiotics, vaccines and birth control.

  • jane smith

    Letting your child slowly suffocate to death as he struggles to breathe for hours and hours isn’t faith-it’s torture. These people are disgusting.

  • Max Freeman

    These vile, twisted people should be put away for life. It’s ironic how much evil is possible through religion.

    • typedriven

      They’re not vile and twisted. They are simply people who believe in the example of Christ, as they call him. I agree with you that much evil is possible through blindness disguised as religion, but you have only to read this article with an open mind to see that these are genuinely loving, trusting people. Their inability to think about the modern world is a separate issue.

      • Charles Stevens

        I agree. I am an atheist and anti-theist; when I first heard of this family I felt very much like Max but I see now that these people are mentally ill. They had no intention of harming their child and they did not want their child to get sick or die. It is the same as any other crime being done through mental illness. These people need to have their remaining children removed from their home, but imprisoning them does not seem right. They need to be institutionalized.

  • typedriven

    I have a lot of respect for people’s faith, of whatever kind. People don’t believe what they do because they have malice or a deliberate lack of logic. They have deeper reasons for their faith. Yet when it comes to something like this — letting your children die for lack of medical care because you believe that Jesus didn’t use medicine, he used faith, and that God will heal you if he chooses — just defies a very basic logic. After all, these same people drive cars with gas engines and use electricity to light up their homes. You might ask: did God give men and women their intellectual gifts to help them understand the world? Certainly, they’d say. Did men and women use those God-given gifts to understand mechanics and combustion and electricity and so forth? Certainly, they’d say. Do you use an electric chainsaw to cut wood for your carpentry projects? Certainly, they’d say. Yet, wasn’t Jesus a carpenter? Did he use an electric saw? Well . . . they’d say. So you’re saying that you’ll take advantage of almost everything in the modern world, including things Jesus didn’t have, and yet medicine, where men and women have used their God-given gifts to develop mastery over illness and death, is some sort of exception for you? The single most important thing in the modern world, provided for you by God, and you won’t use it? These people should be sent to jail, not for negligence, but for a simple inability to think.

    What adds a further kink to the logic is that these people consider themselves to be living by God’s law. Thus, if you rely on your faith, your devotion to God, for healing, then it would stand to reason that your family would be healthier than Godless families that don’t live by faith. Yet, somehow it has escaped their notice that the children of the Godless aren’t dropping dead all around them, while they are losing child after child. Seriously, it’s not that their faith is wrong. It’s a simple lack of an ability to think outside certain very narrow limits of logic, of ability to actually look at the world around them and reason about what is there. They are truly a hazard to themselves and to their defenseless children.

  • MGN

    “They have prayed for greater understanding. To understand what it is they were doing wrong, what it is that would lead God not to answer their prayers to save Kent, and then Brandon.”

    The simple answer is: there is no god! Or they just happened to pick the one wrong god out of the 500+ that are worshipped in the world today.

  • JoJoJas

    Religion is bull. Face it. The truth shall set you free.
    -from an ethical Humanist

  • LeeAnn Gerleman

    A childhood friend of mine had a Christian Scientist Mother . She never got vaccinations, or stayed home sick from school, if they got really sick, they paid a person in the Church to pray for them. One time the father and one of the children was in a rollover car accident. The little boy (2) was in a coma for over two weeks. The doctors said they could save him, But his Mom paid for practitioners to pray for him. Finally the Father (not a Christian Scientist) signed the approval for the surgery. They got a divorce over it later, but the little boy lived. but he was brain damaged, acted like a 3 year old the rest of his life. They eventually remarried many years later. My friend grew up to be a teacher and would you believe it? Married a dermatologist! LOL.