The Accidental Pope: A Novel

The Accidental Pope: A Novel

by Ray Flynn, Robin Moore

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The former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and the bestselling author of The French Connection join forces to write an unforgettable novel about a humble fisherman who is elected pope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312282981
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/17/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.89(d)

About the Author

Raymond Flynn was the popular mayor of Boston from 1984 to 1993, and served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 1993-1997. He is currently president of the Catholic Alliance and host of a daily national television program. Flynn lives in Boston with his wife and six children.

Robin Moore is the bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The French Connection and The Green Berets. He lives with his wife in Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Conclave

At the turn of the third millennium, in the year 2000, the college of cardinals in Rome, following the funeral of the pope and Novemdiales, in this case a fifteen-day period of mourning and reflection, convened to elect a new pope. The soft drizzle of rain settling on the cobblestones in front of the magnificent, recently renovated Basilica of St. Peter's reflected the somber mood that had fallen over the city, and indeed much of the world, with the passing of this pope. Despite the weather, eighty thousand people had gathered in front of St. Peter's for the opening of the conclave, literally meaning, "locked in with a key." The crowd had been growing since dawn to wish the princes of the Church Godspeed, to pray with them, and to witness the spectacle of the cardinals, each one in his splendid robes, arriving one by one for the serious business of electing the next successor to St. Peter.

Seated with the diplomatic corps inside the basilica, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance under the dome of Michelangelo, Edward Kirby, United States ambassador to the Vatican, took in the colorful proceedings, his wife, Catherine, at his side. Except for daughter Maureen, the Kirby children were all back at school or at their jobs in their father's native Chicago, where he had been mayor until the president had offered him this irresistibly prestigious diplomatic post.

When the news of the pope's death had reached the State Department, they had pushed Kirby to give them the inside track on just who the next pope would be. The question was impossible to answer. When pressed, Ed laughinglyreplied, "Look, my father's not mayor here. I can't rig the election and guarantee who the winner will be." It was an obvious reference to the old "ward boss" Chicago days of big-city politics where "vote early and often" was the common greeting of politicians and their constituencies.

Kirby was a zealous jogger whose clear eyes, lean face, trim stature, and universally respected work ethic belied an undeserved reputation in the hostile Chicago press for excessive consumption of wine and beer. He had been devastated at the death of Pope John Paul II, whom he profoundly admired. His relationship with the pope had been close and personal. He was cordial with every one of the cardinals likely to be Supreme Pontiff. With the possible exception of two or three, none of them inspired him to want to stay on in his Vatican assignment. But Kirby recognized himself as the man most qualified to conduct business between the world's most powerful political figure, the president of the United States, and the planet's most important moral voice, the pope.

When he was mayor of Chicago, he was regarded as the champion of working families, and also a fighter for economic justice and human rights in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and, for that matter, many areas of the world. He was an active member of Opus Dei (God's Work), a disciplined, conservative, and often mysterious organization within the Catholic Church, of which the deceased pontiff had been a staunch supporter. Nevertheless, it was an organization the U.S. government considered at the very least secretive, at the worst sinister. Ed had known Pope John Paul II for several years before he ascended to the pontificate. While mayor, Ed was a strong supporter of Solidarity, the outlawed labor movement in Poland, and an ardent opponent of Soviet Communism. Born in a mostly Polish neighborhood of his city, Ed knew Polish culture and traditions well. In this same neighborhood he had first met the thenÐarchbishop of Krakow, later Pope John Paul II, at the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Ed Kirby had been termed the "Lech Walesa of American politics" by respected newspaper columnist Peter Lucas because of his populist, pro-working-family image. When Kirby's oldest son had become clinically depressed, shortly after his father's appointment to the Vatican, it was the Holy Father who privately offered support, prayers, and comfort. He even offered to help pay the family's astronomical hospital bills. Kathy Kirby told a close friend, "If it weren't for the kind words of support from the Holy Father, Ed probably would have gone into depression himself." At the onset of his son's illness, he had been under great pressure because of unfounded accusations of campaign irregularities, assertions leaked for political reasons to ever-hostile reporters by reckless state prosecutors.

With all these considerations and memories, the present ambassador could not see himself, nor did he want to become, attached to yet another pontiff. To the astonishment of the spectators, as the princes of the Church left St. Peter's Basilica where they had celebrated Mass and were on their way to the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, the rain stopped and the Italian sun came out. The crowd and diplomatic guests smiled and nodded at this sign from above that would ensure God's blessing.

Brian Cardinal Comiskey of Ireland, a relatively young prince of the Church at age fifty-five, tall, athletic, with reddish hair and a youthful face, was one of several members of the college of cardinals publicly mentioned to succeed to the throne of St. Peter. He had been elevated to primate of all Ireland and archbishop of Armagh by the late pope because of his achievements and courage in helping bring a degree of moderation to Ireland's troubles between Catholics and Protestants. He was an early advocate of the Good Friday Peace Accord and spoke out often for the power-sharing government of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Ambassador Kirby, watching the parade of cardinals in their red robes and sashes and tri-cornered red birettas on their heads, resolved that should Brian (against all odds) be chosen, he would consider asking the president to reappoint him to the Vatican post. After the presidential election the White House, realizing that it was weakest with the Catholic vote, had sent Kirby to the Vatican. Ed caught Brian's eye as the cardinal walked by, and the two men smiled and nodded familiarly to each other.

The most logical choice of successor to St. Peter's throne, however, was the carmelengo, or chairman of the conclave, Eugenio Cardinal Robitelli, Vatican secretary of state under the deceased pope. Scion of a noble Roman family, the tall and ascetic cardinal with flashing black eyes emanated the aura of a medieval city-state prince and reminded some historians of the noble Borgias. Augustine Cardinal Motupu, the most prominent African serving the Church throughout much of the "Dark Continent," represented the liberal wing of the college of cardinals; some even called it the left wing. Motupu was a leader respected throughout Africa and by people of all persuasions. His forceful personality, wide smile, and inclination to question many of the established traditions of Rome with apparent impunity promoted wide speculation by the media, as well as within the Church hierarchy, that many traditional Church leaders had been fearful of him. It seemed certain that the six black cardinals would back his election to the papacy, and many European cardinals spoke highly of him because of his evident sincerity. Ed Kirby's eyes narrowed as the short and rotund Pasquale Cardinal Monassari passed by, smiling and in animated chatter with the others. Known as "Patsy" to his intimates among a following of New York, Chicago, and Roman penumbral financial speculators, Monassari enjoyed powerful support as a result of the control he exercised over the Institute for Religious Works, better known as the Vatican Bank.

Patsy had been close to a previous custodian of the financial institution, suspected by Scotland Yard agents of what appeared to be a friendly association with questionable business characters connected to smuggling cocaine into London via Sicily and North Africa. These two Italian business confederates were later found to be using counterfeit bonds engraved by international Mafia craftsmen to secure a large loan from the bank.

From his Chicago contacts and the persistent street rumors, Ed Kirby believed it was only a matter of time before Cardinal Monassari and his underworld acquaintances would be implicated in another such scam.

Ladbrokes, the London betting consortium, gave the highest chances for election to Robitelli. Emma, the affable owner and waitress at the small restaurant Osteria dell'Aquila, in Trastevere, also predicted that based on what she heard in her popular restaurant, which was frequented by many Vatican officials, Robitelli was a sure winner. Vatican observers often said, "If you want to know what's going on in the Church, talk to Emma. She knows everything."

The unique circumstance of this conclave, made much of by the record number of journalists covering the Vatican, was a single statistic no one had overlooked. There were 120 members of the college of cardinals under eighty years of age and thus eligible to vote, the precise number stipulated by Pope Paul VI in his 1975 Romano Pontifici Eligendo (The Election of the Roman Pontiff). Expert observers sensed a quick decision.

The one voice most popular on the TV shows was that of Father Ron Farrell. An American, he was a sociologist by bent and skilled at getting to the bottom-line feelings of ordinary people. He was a frequent self-appointed Vatican spokesperson and envoy to the four corners of the world. Farrell was good copy; he could discuss people, analyze situations, and describe the religious controversies behind them, and, in the words of a famous baseball announcer, "He comes across as exciting and immediate as the seventh game of the World Series."

"History is being made! A moral battle for the soul of the Catholic Church is going on behind these walls," Farrell announced to the TV audience, pointing to the Vatican, where as he put it, "the world's most exclusive men's clubÑthe college of cardinalsÑis meeting behind locked doors within the Sistine Chapel. Soon the princes of the Church will elect the two hundred and sixty-fifth pontiff in the Catholic Church's two-thousand-year history, after Jesus Christ himself named St. Peter to be his vicar, his rock on earth, and commanded him to build his Church." Farrell knew what the media wanted to hear, and he was always ready to accommodate, particularly since the exposure shamelessly promoted his racy, Church-based novels.

Perhaps it was unfair for a member of the curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, to call him a shameful self-promoter. It was obvious that many envied his friendship with the press. "He's good copy and gives us red meat," said a CNN spokesperson.

Perhaps the only absolute fact to emerge out of the guessing game played by the media and churchmen alike was the conclusion drawn by the highly respected CBS anchorman Don Mather. After seemingly endless interviews and discussions he concluded, "We really have no idea what will happen and what surprises may be sprung at that conclave, once the doors are closed and those men of God take on the awesome responsibility of electing the leader of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. As for front runners, you go in a front runner, you come out a cardinal."

History would prove him more right than he could ever have imagined.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Authors' Note,
1. The Conclave,
2. The Fisherman,
3. Cappella Sistina,
4. One Less Witch Doctor,
5. The Solution,
6. Kirby's Call,
7. Feed My Sheep,
8. Irish Bread with Caraway Seeds,
9. "Oh My God! So It's True!",
10. Kirby Checks In,
11. Bill visits Rome,
12. Deputy Chief of Mission,
13. The Nancy Reagan Sun Room,
14. No Need for More Votes,
15. Weakness Reaching Out to Weakness in Love,
16. The Accidental Pope,
17. Fallout,
18. Settling In,
19. Washington Rocks,
20. Buzzards Bay,
21. First Morning,
22. Avviso,
23. Mark McGwire Photo at the Vatican,
24. Peter II among the Tourists,
25. Bishop of Rome,
26. The Catholic First Family,
27. At Home in the Vatican,
28. The Eastern Orthodox Conspiracy,
29. Dinner with the Kirbys,
30. Papal Audience,
31. A Vatican Christmas,
32. Christmas Eve Mass,
33. Christmas Morning Mass,
34. The Chosen,
35. Africa,
36. Africa Up Close,
37. Virus,
38. Meghan finds St. Paul,
39. Ireland,
40. Lost at Sea,
41. The United Nations Trip,
42. Wedding,
43. Home is the Captain, Home from the Sea,
44. No Uncle Gino,
About the Authors,

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