Lehner, Ulrich L.
Monastic Prisons and Torture Chambers:
Crime and Punishment in Central European Monasteries, 1600–1800.
Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
2013. Kindle Edition.
This book may not be for everyone, but after mulling it over for a time, I have decided to go on record thanking the author for having taken the risk of treating such a delicate topic.
Most of us, if we know anything at all about the topic, we know it from St. John of the Cross, imprisoned by his confreres. Lehner's book puts a much larger phenomenon in a broader context and helps one to understand better at least two matters at issue during the two hundred year period he examines and perhaps also for a couple centuries prior and since.
There seems to be a direct correlation between the criteria used by religious authorities for admitting candidates to the consecrated life and the frequency in their ranks of the moral turpitude, mental illness and serious crimes which led superiors to apply harsh punishments. During the two hundred year period examined, prisons were kept and punishments meted out often despite the objections of the secular authorities who sought to establish their primacy, even over monasteries and convents, in matters of criminal justice.
Lehner's work helped me sort out another book I have read: Damian, Peter. "The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption." Ite ad Thomam Books and Media. 2015. Kindle Edition. Damian wrote six centuries earlier than the period studied, but with the help of Lehner's observations about the lack of rigor in the acceptance of candidates into religion helps to explain the moral turpitude which the saint sought to convince to Pope to combat more energetically.
In our day, while the first point of Lehner's analysis might hold in terms of the frequency of genuine debility among clerics and religious being attributable to laxity in the application of admissions requirements, it would seem that the second criterion must be considered in the obverse sense. The scandal of recent decades would seem to arise from the unwillingness of bishops and superiors to deal with crimes. In the period discussed in Lehner's treatise there was an eagerness to punish one's own and not admit the interference of the secular arm, whereas today the religious authorities can seem want to face the reality of crime within the walls of the cloister. In a sense, the reference to corruption in the title of the Peter Damian book would suggest parallels between the approach of superiors in the 11th Century to those of the 21st (a certain reticence to intervene even in matters of crime).
We pray that justice might be done and that superiors would assume responsibility for past negligence, resorting when so called for to those in contemporary society entrusted with the duty of keeping the peace and protecting the innocent.