Cathedral-sized reconstruction of one year (September 1986-September 1987) in the life of the Catholic Church in America, by free-lance religion-journalist Briggs (National Catholic Reporter, etc.). A Protestant who believes that Catholicism is ""an essential point of reference for all other branches of Christianity,"" Briggs aims to bring to his study ""the disinterest of a journalist and the interest of a Christian."" His method helps to maintain the even keel: Instead of spinning a sustained narrative filled with analysis, he glues together hundreds of ""snapshots""--most a few pages in length and depicting every shade of Catholic belief and practice--into a panoramic mosaic of the 60-million-strong American Catholic church. Briggs chose the right year, which begins with a Vatican clampdown on liberal theologian Charles Curran and ends with Pope John Paul II's triumphal US visit. As the months fly by, three forces come into play: the traditional church; the rebellious church, a child of Vatican II; and the general Catholic population, caught between the two. To personalize the struggle, Briggs scatters among his mosaic some ten interviews with archetypal Catholics, including a divorced mother, a professor, a Marine pilot, and a nun who favors women's ordination. He also describes three parishes (inner-city, Midwest suburban, East Coast traditional). The year crackles with news, including Mario Cuomo's run-in with Cardinal O'Connor over abortion; Catholic peace activists' defiance of the US Navy; and various issues that come to a boil, such as feminism, homosexuality, and reproductive technology. The mosaic coalesces into a colossal portrait of the American branch of the oldest, largest organization on earth--a branch splintered by left/right tensions but united in its adherence to the central trunk. Briggs paints both sides fairly and excels at portraying the charisma and tactical acumen that characterize the Pope's tap dance through the battlefield. A companion volume would be welcome to interpret the events. Nonetheless, for those who have the time, a gripper.