But he added that only one thing would give the seven surviving Schaible children, who now are in foster care, a good chance of living to adulthood - long prison sentences for their parents.
"I don't have any pipeline to Heaven," Lerner told the couple, "but I do know that it wasn't God who decided to take [your son]. It was you two who took him."
In November, the Schaibles - Herbert, 45, and Catherine, 44 - pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in last April's death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon.
When Brandon died, the Schaibles were on 10 years' probation on convictions for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of another son, Kent, 2, also of bacterial pneumonia. Their probation included mandatory medical care for their children.
The Schaibles are members at First Century Gospel Church, a Juniata Park congregation that teaches that healing comes from prayer and that turning to medicine or doctors shows a lack of faith in God.
In brief statements before sentencing, the Schaibles said they were sorry about their sons' deaths and wished they "could trade places with them."
But both also affirmed their belief in prayer healing, although Herbert Schaible promised that when released he would follow court and probationary rules "to a T."
Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases against the Schaibles, argued for prison terms of eight to 16 years for each.
"I knew this was going to happen," Pescatore said, her voice cracking. "We told them this was going to happen, and nobody listened."
If the Schaibles regain custody of their children, yet another will die, Pescatore said.
"They just don't get it," she said. "It doesn't matter what sentence you give them, they don't get it. They've got two dead children - I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."
Mythri Jayaraman, Catherine Schaible's lawyer, argued for a sentence of 111/2 to 23 months, followed by probation, to make contact with the children easier.
Jayaraman said there was no chance the Schaibles would regain custody of their children. She said that the children were living with two foster families - three girls in one family and four boys in another - and that Family Court would soon make the arrangement permanent.
Jayaraman said both foster families were cousins of Herbert Schaible's but were not affiliated with First Century Gospel Church. A social worker testified that the children are well-adjusted, enrolled in a suburban public school system, and earning straight A's.
The children have had weekly supervised visits with their mother, who has been under house arrest.
The children's father has been in prison since last year and they have had two supervised visits at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center.
Lerner let Catherine Schaible remain free until March 12 so she and the children can celebrate a daughter's 11th birthday.
Catherine Schaible said she was the only child whose birthday she had been unable to celebrate since her arrest.
"Birthdays are a big deal for us, and she was so distraught," she told the judge.