A first novel from Berkeley publisher Cushman tells the implausible tale of an American priest, sent by the Vatican to investigate a series of apparent miracles, who loses his faith through the discovery of a supernatural world. Gabriel D'Amato is young, bright, and ambitious. As a seminarian in California, he writes a dissertation on the cult of the Virgin Mary, a thesis that brings him to the attention of High Church officials in Rome. Summoned abroad, D`Amato is inducted into a secret organization of scholars charged with the investigation of miraculous events throughout the world, then is sent to observe a number of such incidents himself. In Italy, he solves the mystery surrounding a weeping statue; in England, he attempts to explain crop circles. But while D'Amato's ostensible concern is the impartial analysis of any event that appears to have supernatural origins, he quickly comes to see that the Vatican is interested above all else in maintaining its own power and discrediting any rival movement that threatens to win the allegiance of the masses. He finds himself on an even more direct collision course with the Church after he meets a young visionary in California whose apparitions of the Virgin give every indication of being genuine- -which not only threatens the moral authority of the Church, but arouses unwelcome publicity that a scandal-ridden Vatican is eager to avoid. D'Amato, caught between his faith and his intuition, is initially at a loss how to proceed, but he acquires friends (among them two attractive females) who help him to understand the real nature of the events unfolding around him. ``What Mary is saying,'' he learns, ``is that we have to open our hearts.'' This heretical idea, apparently not having occurred to him before, puts his life in jeopardy from Church authorities who will brook no dissent. The resolution is tragic--and no more credible than what's preceded it. New Age cant, obvious and pretentious at once.