And the abbess had the duty to hear her nun's confessions, with at least two of the rules stressing the importance of doing this daily. "For all intents and purposes, abbesses plated the same role for their communities in hearing confession and in absolving sin as did bishops or priests for their communities." And it is clear that in some convents, communion services were not led by a priest, but most likely by the abbess.
This is all, in the modern context of controversy about the place of women in various churches — the subject of bishops currently consuming much energy in the Anglican communion — all explosive stuff, and the more powerful for the fact that Macy carefully positions himself outside the modern arguments, taking a place as merely a medieval scholar who stumbled across these facts and wanted to correct the historical record. Accompanying this is writing that seems almost deliberately dull - you can see the author tiptoeing over the modern political quicksands, sticking firmly to the "I'm only doing historical scholarship" path.
So there's no gripping reading here, but important stuff. And there might even be a lesson in here for the modern church, where, one analyst says, women "feel forced out of the church because of its 'silence' about sexual desire and activity, and because of its hostility to single-parent families and unmarried couples".