Digging deeper on the bridal beat

No matter how high a reporter’s aspirations, there’s something about filing stories for the local police blotter that’s always enchanting. A few days ago, a local reporter for the Beaver County Times found himself a pretty big public interest story.

Preparing for a weekend wedding, an Eastvale couple cut copper wire valued at $7,146 from 18 utility poles, according to a North Sewickley Township police report.

April C. Cater, 24, and Joseph Russell, 23, both of 700 2nd Ave., were charged with theft, criminal conspiracy and criminal mischief after the incidents on Aug. 9, according to police.

Russell told police they planned to be married on Aug. 13 and he had lost his job at an auto parts store, according to the report.

And the story was picked up far and wide. No one did any additional reporting, it was just a story that obviously carried meaning to a wide audience. We’re preparing to go to a wedding in New York next weekend for a dear friend and I’ve had to relive the horrors of wedding planning through that and it just reminds me how very, very thankful I am to have avoided most of the wedding-industrial complex, which I have written about here, but also just to have that behind me.

But I came across another story that involved additional reporting and it was fantastic. A reporter went ahead and called the church where the wedding took place and followed-up. Imagine that! The article begins by noting that the template for the story was “out-of-control wedding madness” but that the Rev. Jim Farnan, the pastor of St. Philomena Catholic Church who celebrated the marriage, said they were a young couple who panicked when faced with financial problems.

We learn more details about the couple and how stupid their crime was — they stole more than $7,000 from utility poles and only netted $30. They have taken responsibility, claiming they were desperate.

Here’s a sample from the story:

“It surprised me that they did this. But I’m not surprised that they did it together,” Father Farnan said. “They support one another. They were sincere, they had a real closeness. They are good for one another. I’m sure that’s why they’re so remorseful. You can see it in their interviews.”

According to Father Farnan, Ms. Russell was an adult convert to Catholicism and her husband isn’t Catholic. During pre-marital counseling they never brought up his job loss, although the priest had heard about it from others.

“They tried to handle this by themselves. They thought that the burden fell all on them, but I think they will learn that there is a whole community of people supporting them,” he said.

Their wedding, he said, wasn’t extravagant. “I think they stole to pay for very basic things, like her dress,” he said.

We learn that fellow parishioners are disappointed but will likely help the couple with wedding bills and restitution — and some words of wisdom.

The moral of the story isn’t a warning about bridezillas, he said. The lessons that people should draw are about what it means to be married in a community of Christian believers.

“The most important people at the wedding are God and the couple,” he said. “There is so much pressure to show your love materially, and you have to avoid that. It’s important to remember that your marriage is a communal experience, it’s a parish experience. You don’t have to go through this on your own. There are a lot of people out there who understand and appreciate what you are going through. Don’t underestimate the generosity of people who want couples to experience the most beautiful side of their wedding.”

Now, I’ve always been a member of a Christian congregation. Which means that there are people throughout the United States who are aware of stupid things I’ve done over the years (you just try being a pastor’s kid in a small town, OK?). And this story rang so true to me. It sounded exactly like what I might expect to happen if something similar occurred with a member of my congregation. And that includes the pastoral lesson about caring less about wedding materialism.

It’s surprising to me how rarely I see a religion story I can relate to. So as soon as I finished this, I went back to see who had written it. It will surprise no one. The reporter is Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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  • Bern

    Thanks Sarah–I bet there are a ton of folks who wish for the same pastor and parish community. I would only have liked to have the story fleshed out just a bit more: what job the groom lost, etc. (And AMEN on the bridal-industrial complex–it was a struggle 30 years ago and a million times worse now!)

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    And thank you for confusing me with Sarah!

  • Bill

    Something new, something old; Something stripped from power poles…

    What a great story. Romance, foolishness, repentance and restitution. And a community helping the bonehead lovers get the car out of the ditch and pointed down the road. I bet they won’t do that again. Well done!

  • Michael

    Personally, I am appalled that the journalist glorifies thievery. But apparently Ann Rodgers is simply reflecting the priest’s permissiveness. Doesn’t he see any irony to talking about how good this couple is for each other when their chief collaborations is to have stolen $7,000 worth of copper, which they sold for $30. They seem challenged in a lot of ways.

  • Bill

    Michael #4,

    I see your point, but I don’t think Ann Rodgers is glorifying thievery. There are several threads in this story, and one is religious. What they did was morally wrong, felonious, and breathtakingly dumb. The reason this story went national is because of the stupidity, not the larceny. But here’s another thread: They got caught; they admitted their crime; they face criminal charges, and they must make restitution. Their priest did not tell them what they did wasn’t wrong, but priests are in the business of reconciliation and restoration. Their congregation is upset with them, but will not abandon them. They have a way back.

    Part of our problem is that so many have no way back to full reconciliation with society. A kid who gets a felony rap at 18 will have to wear that for the rest of his life, even after he serves his time, even if he walks the straight path thereafter. No voting, no firearms. Every job he applies for, he’ll have to confess again, and will likely be disqualified. He’ll be an outlaw for life.

    No doubt punishment is due for the Copper Couple, but we have become obsessed with punishment. There are TV shows whose main feature is the perp walk. And audiences love it. I’m reminded of the story of Jonah, who, after the unpleasant episode with the whale, buckles down to do some serious prophet work in Nineveh. The Vegas bookies weren’t giving him short odds of success – or even survival. But his seven word message did the trick and the whole city repented. So what did Jonah do? Did he rejoice in the Ninevites’ attitude adjustment? Nope, the prodigal prophet sat under a tree and got all hissy when Nineveh was spared. He wanted to see all those sinners go up in a big ball of smoke. Fortunately, he was not in charge.

  • Michael

    Bill, I love your generous reading of this story, particularly since generosity usually seems so lacking in the fraught religious debates of our days. I love your take on the story, but I am not convinced.

    Why is it that I think that if these “kids” had been dealing crack or turning tricks in order to earn enough money to get married, there would be a lot less forgiveness for them? They apparently earn forgiveness for their “morally wrong, felonious, and breathtakingly dumb” behavior just because they are stupid?

    I also love the priest’s reassurance that their wedding wasn’t extravagant. “‘I think they stole to pay for very basic things, like her dress,” he said.” Apparently, if you steal for the basics–like $7,000 worth of copper to buy a dress–that is less culpable than for the extravagances (the ring, the flowers, the reception?).

    I am all in favor of forgiveness, but all involved in this particular example of stupid criminals seem too loony to be taken seriously, including the priest. I just don’t get it.

  • Mike O.

    On a non-journalistic note, I agree with Michael above that the priest comes off poorly in the article. He sounds foolish trying to lessen the severity of the crime by stating the copper money was intended for “basic things” like a dress (as if a wedding dress was basic like food or shelter).

    On a journalistic note, does Ann Rodgers come off just as poorly? I have no problem with Ms. Rodgers writing the article and getting Rev. Farnan’s take. It’s an interesting angle. In the online article there are three links to other articles. Two of them are brief listing just the facts. The third is to a TV report which has Russell explaining the events that led him to steal copper. The problem I have is that neither in Ms. Rodger’s article nor in the articles that she links to is the side opposite that of the reverand. Taking copper from utility poles knocks out landline service and several types of internet service. I know from my job that running new copper wire on a single pole can take a day or two. I would have liked a few sentences from someone who was affected by the service and how they felt knowing it was paying for a wedding. It might have balanced out the article a bit.

  • Bill

    Michael,

    I must admit I was incredulous when the priest said they stole to get basic items, like a dress. I doubt that the bride would have appeared at the altar naked had they not hoisted the copper. Nor do I dispute the core of your objections, but after reading accounts of truly cruel and wanton crimes, the commission of felony stupid does not arouse much wrath in me.

    I also agree with you that kids selling crack or themselves is tragic and should elicit sadness. The couple did a wrong and stupid thing. They’ve been ridiculed nationally. They’ll face charges. They’ll be punished; forgiveness does not preclude punishment. I hope we don’t hear of them doing something like this again. I hope they give up the outlaw trail. It’s a bad life. And they weren’t very good at it.

  • Daniel

    Let’s not miss the point that forgiveness comes from people who have been offended. For instance I would like to be reading here of power company staff if they have extended forgiveness, or people affected by a cut-off of power service if they extended forgiveness: Isn’t there a difference between toleration, forgiveness and lethargy? Lest we characterize that as reconciliation which is mere tolerance, I would like to advocate a careful selection and use of words. It’s hard to talk about my redemption if God merely winks at my foibles.


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