ABBESS: The title of the head of many monastic communities of women, even in some orders where the head of the monasteries for men does not bear the title of abbot. An abbess is commonly elected by the community. Cases of appointment by the pope on the nomination of the sovereign have occurred less frequently than in the case of abbots. By the ruling of the Council of Trent, only those are eligible who have been eight years professed and reached the age of forty, except, in exceptional circumstances, when a dispensation is granted by the pope. An absolute majority on a secret ballot is required. The election must be confirmed by the bishop (or, in certain cases of exemption, by the pope, or the head of the order), before the new abbess possesses full jurisdiction. A formal benediction, for which there is a form in the Pontificale Romanum, is also given by the bishop in many cases. The power thus assigned to the abbess is merely that requisite to rule her community, and in no sense a spiritual jurisdiction; she can not commute or dispense from vows, laws of the Church, or statutes of the order. She may inflict light punishments in the spirit of the rule; but the more severe ones are reserved to the ecclesiastical superior of the convent, who has jurisdiction in the forum erternum. In general it may be said that the power of an abbess has been and is much more restricted than that of an abbot. For the peculiarly wide jurisdiction of abbesses over men as well as women in the order of Fontevraud (not without precedent in the Celtic monastic system), see FONTEVRAUD, ORDER OF. See also ABBOT; MONASTICISM.