Two priests battle lust and other sins, from 1940s high school to 1978 celebrity (one as writer, one as cardinal)--in a tightly paced, clear-focused novel that's sometimes cheap and corny but never less than readable. The somewhat autobiographical narrator is brainy lawyer's son Kevin Brennan, who's always wanted to be a priest, despite normal heterosexual urges. His best friend Patrick Donahue, however, is Jesuit High's handsome basketball star, a lustful, lower-class lover-boy whose ""vocation"" comes suddenly--in a vision that transforms the women he covets into a Madonna telling him to ""be free of the damnation that was fighting for his soul."" So both youths go off to the seminary: bad news for bright Ellen Foley, who has always loved Kevin, and for Patrick's sometime love--beautiful Maureen Cunningham. Bad news for Kevin, too, whose fears about his pal's unsuitability for priesthood are soon confirmed: bisexual Patrick quickly starts using his charms (sexual and otherwise) to win over the priestly powers-that-be, even beating out less popular Kevin (a maverick) for the coveted scholarship to study in Rome. And when Patrick returns to the US, Kevin begins to notice the hunted look in Patrick's eyes--even as he begins his corrupt rise, from Chicago-slum good works to high Church office (with surrenders to lust on the side, one of which results in a secret baby daughter). Meanwhile, Kevin is uncovering grand theft from his posh church's collection plate and starting a controversial writing career. And the two true-love women suffer, of course: nurse/ writer Ellen marries a doomed, devoutly Catholic loser, has too many kids, gets fat and bitter; Maureen weds an alcoholic JFK crony who turns out to be homosexual, divorces, and becomes Bishop Patrick's mistress-in-Rome. Finally, then, by the time that Patrick becomes Archbishop of Chicago, Kevin has enough dirt on his old chum to buy himself the freedom to write as he wishes; but it will be Kevin and Ellen (now widowed, slimmed, and reborn) who'll carry out a caper in Italy to save Cardinal Patrick from blackmail during the Papal election of 1978. Greeley resorts far too much to melodramatic contrivance: both Patrick's secret daughter and Maureen will be disposed of with violent deaths. And the constant cross-references to US history are clumsy and shallow. But the characters (especially the women) are appealing; the dirty doings underneath the cassocks are shocking without being unnecessarily lurid; and the ecclesiastical backgrounds (a senile, psychotic Archbishop is one of the many vivid cameos) have an authentic feel even when not entirely believable. A solid commercial entry--and not just for the limited church-fiction audience.