Pastor illegally married couple

The Daily Post, Australia/April 7, 2006
By Leanne Bell

A Grieving widow has one question for the Rotorua pastor who masqueraded as a marriage celebrant at her wedding: Was I ever legally married to my husband?

Rotorua woman Linda Joseph is losing sleep out of sheer worry that she may never have been officially married to her husband, who died in 2004 - almost two years after their wedding.

Mrs Joseph's wedding to Steve Te Roma Joseph was performed by Rotorua pastor Darren Fraser Wheki at a house in Rotorua in 2002. However, the pastor was harbouring a secret - he was not a registered marriage celebrant.

Mrs Joseph had no idea that something was wrong until she looked for her husband's death certificate last year, stumbled across her wedding certificate, and saw it contained the name of a marriage celebrant of whom she had never heard.

She immediately contacted the Department of Internal Affairs and Wheki was later charged with pretending to be a marriage celebrant and "solemnising" the couple's wedding on October 25, 2002.

Wheki pleaded guilty in the Rotorua District Court and was remanded by Judge James Weir until May 4 for referral to the Mana Social Services restorative justice programme.

The court heard Wheki had been a pastor at the United Pentecostal Church International at Rotorua and married the couple despite his application to become a marriage celebrant being rejected by the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages earlier that year.

His application form had contained mistakes and was returned, advising of the corrections he had to make.

Some time after he married the couple, Wheki applied again to become a registered marriage celebrant and was successful.

He told the couple he would take care of their official marriage paperwork as a gift.

Outside court, Wheki told the Daily Post he married the couple, knowing he was unqualified to do so, because they were his friends.

Mrs Joseph said Wheki's wife was a cousin of her late husband and they never doubted him when he told them he was an official celebrant.

Now she does not even know if she was ever officially married to Mr Joseph and is keen to ask Wheki where her marriage legally stands.

"If we have to come face to face I will ask questions - I will have to stay brave," she said. "I will be happy to know am I or am I not [married] and if I'm not I will just have to try to cope."

Mrs Joseph has no idea why Wheki pretended to be a marriage celebrant but said the saga was stressing her "something terrible".

Despite the hurt she was suffering, she said she had no hard feelings toward Wheki.

"I don't feel angry, I feel sorry for myself."

Former secretary of the Rotorua Ministers Association Peter Lindop said he had never heard of Wheki or the United Pentecostal Church International.

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