Church pastor ordered to trial in granddaughter's death

Case tragic, 'beyond belief,' district judge says

WERNERSVILLE, Pa. - A church pastor who rejects modern medicine is heading to trial on a charge that he failed to report suspected abuse before the death of his granddaughter last year.

The Rev. Rowland Foster appeared Wednesday before District Magistrate Ann Young in Wernersville for his preliminary hearing on a third-degree felony charge of failing to report or refer an incident of child abuse when he was a mandatory reporter.

Young called the case tragic and "beyond belief," but she said it's not her job to question the pastor's religious beliefs.

The girl's parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, are accused of failing to seek medical treatment for their daughter before she died inside the family's home in Upper Tulpehocken Township on November 8, 2016.

The Fosters told investigators that, because of their religion as members of Faith Tabernacle Church in Lebanon, they believe in the power of prayer over medicine and doctors.

Rowland Foster is the church's pastor. He told investigators that he observed Ella Grace just prior to her death and said that she was not talking much and "sounded sick."

At the time of her death, authorities said Ella would have had a fever of around 104 degrees, with trouble breathing. They said the girl almost certainly would have survived had she been given a simple course of antibiotics.

Rowland Foster's appearance was actually his second for a preliminary hearing. The first time, in April, District Magistrate  Andrea Book determined that prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to support their allegations that Foster broke state law by not alerting authorities before his granddaughter, Ella Grace, died of pneumonia.

District Attorney John Adams said Book made a legal mistake in dismissing the case and refiled the charge against Foster in May, putting the wheels of justice back in motion and setting the stage for the pastor's return to court Wednesday.

Rowland Foster remains free on bail; Jonathan and Grace Foster are awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter charges. The couple have surrendered their six other children to child services.

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