Fundamentalist pastor charged in toddler’s pneumonia death

The pastor of a church that shuns modern medicine was charged with a felony Thursday in his toddler granddaughter’s death from pneumonia, joining his son and daughter-in-law as defendants in the latest criminal case involving the Christian fundamentalist sect.

The Rev. Rowland Foster, pastor of a Faith Tabernacle Congregation church district in eastern Pennsylvania, was charged with failing to report a suspected case of child abuse. As a pastor, Foster is legally required to report those cases.

Foster’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Ella, died in November after her parents refused to seek medical treatment. Authorities say Foster anointed Ella with oil in a failed attempt to heal her.

He didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on the charge.

Foster, who turns 72 on Saturday, explained to state police that the church “does not believe in medical care and that he had not been to a doctor in his 70 years,” an affidavit said.

Ella’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter. Police have said Jonathan Foster attributed Ella’s death to “God’s will.” The couple, who are free pending trial, gave up custody of their six other children.

A forensic pathologist told investigators Ella would have had a 95 percent chance of surviving if she had been given a routine course of antibiotics.

At least 27 Faith Tabernacle children since 1971 have died of preventable or treatable illnesses, according to a running tally kept by Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, an advocacy group that opposes faith-based medical neglect. Several church members have been prosecuted for failing to seek medical care for their children.

Like most states, Pennsylvania offers a civil exemption to parents who fail to seek medical treatment for their children on religious grounds. The law does not shield parents from criminal prosecution.

Rowland Foster, who was released Thursday on his own recognizance, is due in court next week for a preliminary hearing.