Late last week, Australia received the news that someone had been arrested in relation to the murder of Daniel Morcombe, and that police were now searching a particular area where they believed they might find Daniel's remains.
The whole case of Daniel Morcombe's disappearance has had an impact on south-east Queensland. Everyone in this region is familiar with the trauma suffered by the Morcombe family, never knowing for sure what has happened to their son. Bus lines have responded to the tragedy with a “no child left behind” policy – to try to avoid another child being left alone at a bus stop, waiting for the next bus to come at whatever time.
So how do we respond to the news that someone has been arrested, and has now had his first court appearance?
Importantly, we must remember that in our society, any person is considered innocent unless and until a court determines otherwise. (If you or I were unfortunate enough to be arrested for any reason, we would be grateful for that rule – that we could not be labelled “criminal” unless it could actually be proven to a court “beyond reasonable doubt”.) That means the man who has been arrested, is not “Daniel Morcombe's killer” - he is just a man who has been arrested and is yet to have his day in court to determine the truth of the matter.
Because jurors are drawn from all parts of the community – it's the responsibility of the community to not prejudge this case (or any other). Jurors need to be free to go to the court and hear the actual evidence, (rather than rumors, innuendo, wild guesses, etc) without being influenced by what the people around them have been saying. That's the way our system of justice works. So we need to be careful of the words we use when talking about this matter.
There is a lot of high emotion about this case. People who don't know the family feel real grief in sympathy with them. People who fear this might happen to children they love are angry and defensive and are looking for someone to blame. We all want some sense that the world can be a safe place again.
It's a tribute to the Morcombe family that their public response to their loss has been to set up a foundation to help protect children, and that their response to the arrest has been to urge people to allow the justice system to work properly.
So what do we, the church, pray for in this situation? We give thanks that we live somewhere justice happens slowly and carefully, with no-one prejudged. We pray for wisdom for all of the people involved in this, and other, court cases. We pray that the truth will finally be known, and that whoever really is responsible will be held to account. We pray for the police and volunteers, everyone who is out searching once again. We pray that the justified community outrage at the crime will be used as an impetus towards further protecting children and other vulnerable people, not towards vengance. And we pray for peace and comfort for Daniel's family, that they might finally have their answers and be able to farewell their son as they would wish.
Grace and peace