TOPEKA, Kansas — Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., the founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, is a patient at a hospice with unspecified health problems, a church spokesman confirmed Sunday.
That contrasts with Feb. 14, when church spokesman Steve Drain twice told a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter that Phelps was “healthy.”
Unlike calls in the past several years, Drain declined a reporter’s request in February to put Phelps on the phone.
In the past, Phelps would take the phone to chat awhile, sometimes chuckling because he understood the purpose of the call was to check on his health in the face of rumors he was ill or dead.
Drain said Phelps had done “his bit” in talking to reporters in earlier years and had passed the torch to younger church members.
After Phelps was voted out of Westboro Baptist Church last summer, he was moved out of the church and into a house, where he was watched to ensure he wouldn’t harm himself, a son estranged from the church said Sunday.
Phelps eventually stopped eating and drinking, and on Sunday, he was near death, son Nate Phelps said in a Facebook posting. The information also is based on an e-mail sent by Nate Phelps to a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter.
“(Fred) is at Midland Hospice House where, as of yesterday (Friday), he is comfortable without the respiratory difficulty that he was having the day before and is unresponsive,” Nate Phelps wrote, quoting a message sent to him.
For many years, Fred Phelps Sr. and his wife, Margie Marie Phelps, lived in an upper floor of the church.
On Sunday morning, the church and surrounding streets where many of the members live were quiet.
Drain declined to comment Sunday on a report that Fred Phelps Sr. has been excommunicated from the conservative church, which he founded in the 1950s and was known for its controversial anti-gay stance.
Nate Phelps, who broke away from the church 37 years ago, posted on his Facebook page that his father was excommunicated from the church in August 2013 and is “now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka.”
Nate Phelps made the Facebook post around midnight Saturday. He is one of five sons of Fred Phelps Sr.
Drain was asked Sunday morning whether Fred Phelps Sr. had been excommunicated.
“We don’t owe any talk to you about that,” Drain said. “We don’t discuss our internal church dealings with anybody. It’s only because of his notoriety that you are asking.”
However, a second Phelps brother estranged from Westboro Baptist Church confirmed Sunday morning that Fred Phelps Sr. is in poor health and has been excommunicated.
“Just a quick note to assure you the information you wrote and published this morning is accurate,” Mark Phelps e-mailed to The Capital-Journal at 10:30 a.m. “I do not know anything more than you know, at this time, but what you wrote I know to be true, personally, just as Nathan (Nate Phelps) knows to be true also.”
As for who is the leader of Westboro Baptist Church, there is no head of the church, Drain said.