Truly, quoth Ponocrates, I have heard it related, and it hath been told me for a verity, that Pope John XXII., passing on a day through the Abbey of Toucherome, was in all humility required and besought by the abbess and other discreet mothers of the said convent to grant them an indulgence by means whereof they might confess themselves to one another, alleging that religious women were subject to some petty secret slips and imperfections which would be a foul and burning shame for them to discover and to reveal to men, how sacerdotal soever their functions were; but that they would freelier, more familiarly, and with greater cheerfulness, open to each other their offences, faults, and escapes under the seal of confession. There is not anything, answered the pope, fitting for you to impetrate of me which I would not most willingly condescend unto; but I find one inconvenience. You know confession should be kept secret, and women are not able to do so. Exceeding well, quoth they, most holy father, and much more closely than the best of men.
The said pope on the very same day gave them in keeping a pretty box, wherein he purposely caused a little linnet to be put, willing them very gently and courteously to lock it up in some sure and hidden place, and promising them, by the faith of a pope, that he should yield to their request if they would keep secret what was enclosed within that deposited box, enjoining them withal not to presume one way nor other, directly or indirectly, to go about the opening thereof, under pain of the highest ecclesiastical censure, eternal excommunication. The prohibition was no sooner made but that they did all of them boil with a most ardent desire to know and see what kind of thing it was that was within it. They thought long already that the pope was not gone, to the end they might jointly, with the more leisure and ease, apply themselves to the box-opening curiosity.
The holy father, after he had given them his benediction, retired and withdrew himself to the pontifical lodgings of his own palace. But he was hardly gone three steps from without the gates of their cloister when the good ladies throngingly, and as in a huddled crowd, pressing hard on the backs of one another, ran thrusting and shoving who should be first at the setting open of the forbidden box and descrying of the quod latitat within.
On the very next day thereafter the pope made them another visit, of a full design, purpose, and intention, as they imagined, to despatch the grant of their sought and wished-for indulgence. But before he would enter into any chat or communing with them, he commanded the casket to be brought unto him. It was done so accordingly; but, by your leave, the bird was no more there. Then was it that the pope did represent to their maternities how hard a matter and difficult it was for them to keep secrets revealed to them in confession unmanifested to the ears of others, seeing for the space of four-and-twenty hours they were not able to lay up in secret a box which he had highly recommended to their discretion, charge, and custody.