A former US ambassador to the Vatican (Flynn) and a bestselling storyteller (Moore: The Green Berets, 1965, etc.) weave an unlikely tale about a Cape Cod family man elected the 265th pope.
With John Paul II gone, the College of Cardinals in Rome, charged with choosing his successor, finds itself deadlocked. The favorites: Vatican secretary Ireland’s Cardinal Robustelli, Cardinal Comiskey, and Africa’s Cardinal Motupu. Each has his powerful, intractable supporters, and with each ballot the hope for compromise grows dimmer. Then, as a joke (cardinals can be as silly as anyone else), one of the conclave votes for Bill Kelly. That’s right, Cardinal Comiskey’s close friend Father Bill Kelly, a laicized priest who got married and subsequently fathered four children. The laughter turns hollow when it develops that enough waggish cardinals have put Kelly’s name on their ballots to secure him the election. Still, surely Kelly will let them off the hook, won’t he? Cardinal Comiskey predicts that he will and ordinarily would have been right—except there’s been an epiphany. The Blessed Virgin has appeared to Bill, he tells the bemused cardinal, with a message from her son. Divinely inspired, then, Bill opts for becoming Peter the Second. Almost at once, however, his warm-hearted approach earns him a sobriquet, just plain “Pope Bill.” Journeying to Africa, he takes a stand against poverty. He tells the Jews and Arabs how to solve the Middle East crisis and the Irish how to achieve lasting peace. Sweet-natured and innately wise, he never sets a pontifical foot wrong. And when, tragically, after only an eyeblink of Pope Bill’s tenure, the white smoke goes up again, the 266th knows he’s got a tough act to follow.
No style to the prose, no nuance to the characters. Can any of it be taken seriously? Not a prayer.