The Cause for sainthood of a murdered and martyred priest is called in question with the discovery of his love letters to an unknown woman. These also threaten a Vatican cardinal with a scandal, so he gives his Jesuit nephew the secret mission of going to Ireland to find the woman concerned and thus save him from disgrace and even death.


In a Vatican crypt, Cardinal Delaney has a secret meeting with Monsignor John Willard, who is compiling the beatification Cause of Father Niall Corrigan, murdered and martyred in Northern Ireland twenty-two years before. Willard hands the cardinal love letters written by Corrigan to an unknown woman. Delaney risks excommunication by accepting Cause evidence because he suspects the letters might incriminate him and reveal the scandal which drove him out of Ireland. Those that concern him he burns. But the question remains: Who sent them? Is the woman to whom Corrigan addressed them still alive? He must find out or live in fear of exposure.
From Britain, he summons his nephew, David Ogilvy, a young Jesuit priest. Without disclosing his real motives, he entrust him with the mission of tracing the woman.
Under an assumed name, Ogilvy begins his quest in the Irish Republic, backgrounding Corrigan's life and death and identifying and meeting the women whom he might have loved.
One woman reveals how Corrigan quarrelled with his uncle, the cardinal; another tells of how he might have legitimately claimed to have wrought a miracle but suppressed the facts; still another testifies how he was friendly with an IRA leader. Ogilvy is more shocked by the woman who divulges how Corrigan arranged an abortion for her daughter.
All these woman were in love with Niall Corrigan; though all realised they could not compete with his love of Christ and God. None resembles the portrait of the woman in the love letters.
Paradoxically, Ogilvy meets the fiercest opposition and hostility from the priests who are promoting Corrigan's Cause -- even those working for Wayfarers, the institution he founded for orphans, drug addicts, the aged and homeless.
Everywhere he goes, he is followed; twice he is accosted and threatened by para-militaries, IRA and others. He is suspected of being a para-military himself.
He is forced to seek lodgings with the cardinal's sister, the irreverent, hard-drinking Aunt Maeve, who thought Corrigan a hero and has no time for her own brother. Maeve introduces him to two girls, Eileen Driscoll and Sheila Brennan, who work in a Belfast newspaper. Ogilvy suspects (rightly) Maeve is out to quash his church career and broker a marriage to Eileen.
In the Vatican, Cardinal Delaney is summoned by Pope John-Paul II and given the assignment he has dreaded since Corrigan's Cause was mooted: to go to Ireland and prepare the beatification ceremony in St. Patrick's Cathedral at Armagh.
2 Certain the Corrigan Cause will be upheld, the Pope is obsessed by the way the young priest was murdered in his own church, stabbed and strangled with his gold crucifix chain in his confessional box. Delaney fears for his life if he returns to Ireland; he is also apprehensive about what his nephew has discovered about his past.
In fact, Ogilvy has found Corrigan was murdered for having informed the police about an IRA plot to blow up the Belfast law courts. But was Corrigan the real informer? Ogilvy meets Sheila Brennan's mother who confessed to her priest about the plot in which her husband was involved; only, her priest was not Father Corrigan, but Father Delaney, who broke canon law by passing her confessional secret to his friend, Corrigan.
Ogilvy's biggest shock is finding that Corrigan turned Delaney and two other priests out of his institution when he realised they were paedophiles who had been abusing orphan boys and photographing each other in obscene postures. Sheila's brother was one of the victims.
Now Ogilvy receives death threats. Delaney, who has arrived in Ireland, realises his nephew knows everything and asks him to take his confession; Ogilvy does, but is aware this is an attempt to gag him.
Soon afterwards, he is lured into an IRA trap and tortured to reveal what the cardinal has told him. Eileen saves him by threatening to put every IRA name she has collected, with all their crimes on the computer network unless Ogilvy is released.
When he is freed, he learns his uncle has died in what can only be a suicide.
Eileen has a confession to make as well. She is Niall Corrigan's daughter, and it was to her mother that he wrote the letters; it was she who sent them to the Vatican to bring out the truth.
At the splendid funeral they give Delaney in Armagh Cathedral, Ogilvy hands Willard, the Vatican priest, back the letters which he knows will condemn all attempts to beatify and later sanctify Niall Corrigan.


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