Prologue

Paul Cardinal Dawson sat in his office drinking his black coffee and fuming silently. As prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, he had become accustomed to wielding an almost autocratic control over the selection of bishops, and he exercised his power to his advantage. He hoped to build a sizable bloc within the bishopric loyal to himself.

That he had papal ambitions was not in question. One did not become a bishop and then a cardinal without ambition. Within the College of Cardinals the whispers of who would lead the Church could already be heard within the Vatican. Cardinal Dawson had no illusion of being considered papabile himself – that is to say, one likely considered to become pope – at least not at this conclave. At 55 he was still young and would likely see several conclaves before being forced into retirement at the age of 80.

His immediate plan was to groom enough bishops to make himself a contender for the papacy. If not him, he hoped one of his handpicked men would be elevated, and then presumably he would wield influence over the pontiff.

However the current occupant to the Chair of St. Peter was fiercely independent, and on several occasions thwarted his selections, two of which rankled him more than the others. The first was Pope Celestine’s decision to elevate Monsignor Israel Mendoza to bishop two years ago. The second was the pontiff’s decision to name Bishop Mendoza as the ordinary to the Diocese of Dallas in the United States instead of Fr. Stephens.

As he sat there seething over the appointment, Mendoza was taking possession of his cathedral, and as such taking up his position as shepherd to the local church. Dawson knew he should let it go. One bishop almost six-thousand miles away shouldn’t matter, not in the greater scheme. It should be good news in that Mendoza would no longer be at the Vatican, working at the Secretariat of State. It would put distance between the wayward bishop and the erring pope.

Still, he could not let this minor setback distract him from his plan, to stack the church with men sympathetic to his cause. There were enough priests that could be swayed to his side, and he would do what he could to have as many of them made bishops, loyal to the pontiff by oath, but loyal to him in gratitude.

For now he had no choice but to accept Mendoza with as much grace as he could muster. But he could not let it go. He knew his story, and how he was allowed to even become a priest was beyond his ability to comprehend. They all had skeletons, no one is immune to their own private demons, but he had to find Mendoza’s. He would discredit him, and hopefully force him from the church.

Then he would fill the position with one of his men. All for the greater glory….

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