Cover image for Council
Tobin, Greg.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 2002.
Physical Description:
333 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



In this powerful sequel to Conclave, the acclaimed novel of the papacy, you will enter the shadowy corridors of the Vatican with the pope himself and go behind the scenes of the debates and intrigues that affect the lives of one billion Catholics around the world. Council is the riveting story of the first American-born pope, who sends shock waves throughout the Catholic Church when he summons a new ecumenical council, or gathering of the world's bishops - the first since the revolutionary Vatican II in the 1960s. His mission: to bring crucial, long-needed changes to the life of the Church he loves. Council is the passionate story of the men and women who are drawn into the maelstrom of faith and politics, passion and power. The pope who faces the most difficult crisis of his life . . . a beautiful journalist who loves a priest . . . a powerful Irish cardinal who bitterly opposes the pope's call for a council . . . a South American businessman who once served in a death squad . . . an American priest who is torn from his troubled parish to play a role in the pope's dream . . . all are front line soldiers in the battle of good against evil. Council is the intimate, detailed look at the daily life and the crushing responsibilities of the papacy, as conflict and conspiracies whirl around the controversial figure of Celestine VI, the surprise choice of the cardinals in the aftermath of a terrorist assassination of a beloved pope. Told with authority and sensitivity, insight and knowledge, Council is a story you'll never forget.

Author Notes

Greg Tobin is an award-winning Catholic author of popular fiction and nonfiction. A former editor and senior publishing executive, he is currently a full-time writer. He is a graduate of Yale University. Tobin lives with his wife and sons in South Orange, New Jersey.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tobin's latest novel about Catholic church hierarchy is a well-intentioned but unfocused, cluttered affair in which an American pope initiates a massive effort to take the church into the 21st century with a new ecumenical council. Timothy Mulrennan is the New Jersey archbishop who suddenly ascends to the papacy after a controversial election that takes places shortly after the assassination of Mulrennan's Filipino predecessor. The earnest, compassionate American quickly throws his energy into the massive task of assembling a council (a gathering of all the bishops around the world) for the first time since Vatican II in 1960, reasoning that the lightning pace of life in the electronic age warrants a reconsideration of theological principles. He faces formidable opposition from the conservative wing of the Vatican, but an even more formidable enemy surfaces when doctors detect a spinal tumor during a routine medical exam. Tobin writes with conviction about the issues facing the Catholic church, such as the role of the laity in church affairs, but the endless political wrangling over the formation of the council itself is unlikely to interest any but the most die-hard pope watchers especially since these obscure questions seem dated vis--vis the current sordid scandals. Moreover, the romantic subplot involving a priest and a journalist is mawkish and hackneyed, and a political conspiracy led by a prominent conservative cardinal is pure melodrama. Tobin has forged a solid career by writing with elegance and grace about contemporary religious questions, but this is a subpar effort. (Aug.) Forecast: The child abuse scandals may win the book some extra attention, but they only underscore that Council's belabored procedural detail is beside the point. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



CHAPTER ONE Jersey City, New Jersey, September 11, 2001 The archbishop, a lean, almost ascetic figure, tall with broad shoulders that filled out the flowing emerald-colored Chasuble, bowed deeply toward the altar in a gesture of obeisance and reverence as he deliberately pronounced the words that sacred Tradition and Scripture attribute of Jesus Himself: "This is my body." He paused for a heartbeat, then continued: "Which will be given up for you." Timothy John Cardinal Mulrennan lifted the host, a thin water of unleavened bread that had, with his words, become the body of his Lord Jesus Christ. He held the host aloft before the gathered attendees of this special, early-morning mass, then replaced it in the plate and genuflected before it. Next, he took the chalice of wine intermingled with a drop of water and pronounced the similar words of consecration in a clear, measured cadence: "This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven." Again, he breathed silently before he added in a near-whisper the admonition that he brought Christians together for two thousand years: "Do this in memory of me" The gleaming upraised vessel reflected the blameless sunlight that shot through the windows of the chapel, in St. Peter Hall on the college campus, which were open to a bright, cloudless new day. Cardinal Mulrennan had returned from Rome less than twenty-four hours earlier, ending a brief vacation trip combined with a visit to the Holy Father. He had been emotionally shaken by the sight of the old man whom he so loved--a bent and shrunken shell ravaged by age, disease, and the woes of the world, and still suffering the aftereffects of an assassination attempt twenty years before. Yet, never had he known the people to be so mentally acute, attuned to the spiritual currents across the globe, even prophetic in his words and his attitude. The pontiff--the holiest man Tim Mulrennan had ever known--had sadly predicted a renewal of evil and darkness in the earthly kingdom, Which very soon he would depart.…Difficult to believe on such a warm and glorious September day that war, pestilence, and famine might descend upon the people of God. Mulrennan smiled to himself as he continued the sacramental rite of the Eucharist, through the Lord's Prayer and the Agnus Dei and as he served Holy Communion to the community which had gathered for the planned events of the day--another busy, overcrowded schedule for the cardinal who was responsible for the care of one and a half million souls in the Archdiocese of Newark, within hollering distance of Manhattan island. God is in charge, his spiritual director, an old priest colleague and mentor, Father Joel, always reminded him. Let God do His job and try your very best to do yours . Simple as that. Though Timothy Mulrennan's job was quite demanding and complex and highly public; still, he stove for simplicity and focus amid the heavy challenges and responsibilities that he faced nearly every day. Like the pope himself, Cardinal Mulrennan was a successor of the apostles, a member of the worldwide college of bishops which is charged to teach the ancient faith and to tend the far-flung flock of Christ. Yet he also believed that the Bishop of Rome was indeed first among equals, a direct inheritor of the ministry of St. Peter and the living representative of Christ on earth, His vicar and chief servant. Not that he spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of the apostolic succession…he was more often too busy with the day-to-day affairs of his diocese to soar into such elevated theological realms. In front of him each day was laid a crushingly packed agenda of activities--masses, talks, meetings, charity dinners, parish visits--that would cow any corporate CEO. But he liked it; in fact, he thrived on it. The trip from which he had just returned, which had included a several-day holiday in Ireland, his ancestral homeland, was the very first lengthy break he had taken since his appointment to this archiepiscopal see. Occasionally he had taken a two-day "weekend" (in the middle of the week, of course) or squeezed in a round of golf on the Essex County public course, or a few days on retreat, which was always more work than relaxation. So he actually felt refreshed and ready to tackle this first full working day, feeling blessed that he was in a job assignment that he loved. He was grateful that his five years in a curial position in Rome had ended with his appointment to the archdiocese where he had been born, raised, and educated. In fact, in his homily morning, after the Gospel reading from Luke, in which Jesus calls the apostles to join Him in His ministry, Mulrennan spoke to the forty or so professors, deans, and administrators from St. Peter's College about their connection to the apostles and their role in proclaiming the Good News, and he urged them, too, to be grateful for such a vacation. This mass was the archbishop was a part of their day-long convocation to mark the beginning of a new academic year. "Push your boats out farther into the waters and let down your nets," he preached, echoing the words of the evangelist. "The fish you will catch, even after you think there are none left to harvest, will astound you--even as Simon Peter and his men were astounded. Let yourselves be surprised by God and his Power to work miracles in your lives and the lives of those you touch through your profession." If every Christian, and every Catholic, were to heed the simple instructions of Jesus, how the world would be transformed and the light shine through any darkness or disaster that might befall God's people. "They left everything behind to follow Him--all the way to His death and resurrection and beyond, to the end of their days. And today He calls us, his latter-day followers, to do the same. His message is changeless, asking us to change and become fully whom the Father created us to be." When the liturgy ended, at about 8:20 A.M., the archbishop stayed for a quick cup of coffee with the college president, a Jesus priest friend of many years, along with the other academicians and religious who pressed him for details of his ad limina Vatican visit and asked after the health of the Holy Father. "As you know, he is planning a trip to Armenia, the oldest Christian nation in the world," Cardinal Mulrennan said, "and is still determined to travel to Iraq some day. And I certainly would not bet against him--based on strength of will alone. His physical body is failing him, certainly as it does everyone, but his mind and spirit are stronger than I have ever seen, and I have known him for almost forty years." He had first met the future pope at the Second Vatican Council when the Pole was a young bishop--had observed the philosopher-pastor's fertile, restless mind at work even then. "I pray for him everyday. And he pray for us." By eight forty-five he had extracted himself--gracefully, he hoped--from the gathering and made his way to the car in the crowded college parking lot. A young priest named David Gallagher awaited him and would drive him back to Newark. Mulrennan got into the front seat instead of the back, pulled on his seat belt, and turned on the radio as the driver pulled onto the narrow street. He set back and closed his eyes. A news bulletin caused him to jerk upright and turn up the volume: An airplane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. "David, let's drive toward Liberty state Park, quickly." He caught intermittent glimpses of the towers across the river and saw for himself that smoke was rising from one of them. Less than ten minutes later, as they headed directly for the park on the Turnpike extension, he witnessed the swift, eerie approach of another airplane and a second heart-sickening explosion, and heard the echoing boom: Both towers were now on fire. "Good God," he muttered. "God, no, no, no," He wanted to bury his face in his hands, but he could not look away from the horror. Father Gallagher, a thirty-year-old who had been ordained less than four months before, drove on until he got to the park, pulled into the visitors' lot. Timothy Mulrennan bolted from the car and ran across the grass and pavement to the water's edge, unable to comprehend the scene he was witnessing. Irresistibly, his heart was drawn to the sight, though his thoughts were racing in every direction, tumbling through his brain. What was happening? Instinctively he knew it had to be a terrorist action. But how could something like that succeed? Weren't there security measures to protect our domestic airspace from such attacks? The sky remained oddly, defiantly brilliant, the air perfect --but for the inky columns of smoke from the giant towers that rose and merged into one evil black cloud. He and Father Gallagher then sped up to the pier where commuter ferries routinely shuttled back and forth across the water throughout the day. There were a few stunned commuters present and--significantly--a group of Jersey City firefighters loaded down with their equipment, waiting for the next outbound boat, which approached rapidly. One of them called out to Mulrennan: "It's the archbishop! Over here, Father!" With his distinctive urban Jersey accent he pronounced it "fawdder". Tim jogged over to them, joined them on the deck of the ferry, along with some cops, nurses, and emergency medical workers--about three dozen in all. The ferry captain allowed the few civilians who wanted to make the trip to board, then pulled away from the pier. The waters were calm, clean, reflecting the bright blue day, but as they approached Lower Manhattan the ugliness of the destruction, the debris from the initial twin impact still floated on and above the harbor. The burning towers loomed. Tim Mulrennan looked away for a moment, to the south, to the Statue of Liberty which stood unviolated but a sadly silent witness to the event. She provided no answers. The radio blared blared news reports but provided no information beyond What they could see with their own eyes: a terror attack, a horror that only grew larger as they moved ever closer. As the boat approached the New York side, the archbishop called the men and women together for a prayer. He had no idea what lay ahead for them when they arrived at their destination. He knew that they would plunge immediately into the burgeoning chaos and put their professional skills to saving lives, as many and as swiftly as possible. God be with them…. "God help us in this hour of difficulty and danger. Please be with those who have been injured and killed in this violation of our homeland. Please give strength to your servants who seek to help others in this terrible hour. We ask in the name of Your Son, the Prince of Peace, and the Holy Spirit, with the Blessed Mother, for your love and support in these efforts. Amen". He blessed the bowed heads with the sign of the cross. The men and women then lifted their faces grimly and turned toward the looming, threatening cityscape. One of the firefighters came to Tim and said, "My brother is a Port Authority cop. He works in there. I spoke to him last night. He and his wife have three boys". Tim's mind reeled: How many thousands of people were in those buildings, and below ground and on the street, on the trains that fed into the World Trade Center underground? Tens if not hundreds of thousands of souls flowed into the area for work and tourist visits every single day. Now, many were trapped, many had probably been killed. What lay ahead in the next hour? What could he do? He looked around for Gallagher; he had lost track of the young priest. There he was, standing as still as a rock at the forward rail of the ferry, watching. Then, movement from above, a rumbling that Mulrennan felt in his bones. He looked up as the ferry closed the last hundred yards to the slip. One of the towers splintered near the top and collapsed upon itself. At first slowly, then with increasing velocity, the structure disappeared in a sideways explosion of smoke and debris, falling almost gracefully to the earth. A bloody gray smudge against the sky was all that remained beside the still-erect sister tower, which continued to burn. He looked at his watch: ten A.M. The ferry finally docked, after an agonizing ten or fifteen more minutes, and the cardinal from New Jersey stood behind the rescue workers, allowed them to debark first and dash directly toward the disaster, followed by the handful of commuters who seemed stunned, scared, uncertain. where to go or what to do. A few minutes later, Mulrennan and Gallagher reached the street off the pier and stood there trying to orient themselves when it happened again: The second building, the one with the distinctive three hundred sixty-foot television mast atop, the first to be hit, fell. Gasps and screams from the people in the street. The earth, this seemingly impregnable island of granite, shifted and vibrated beneath his feet as the giant structure shuddered in its death throes. "Oh, dear Christ!" he cried, uncomprehending, like a child. * * * "The world has been changed, forever--by the power of evil. Let us, then, change the world, with God's help--by the power of good". For the second time in twelve hours he preached a homily, this one unanticipated, and this time in the familiar cathedral basilica that was his home church. Sacred Heart Cathedral in the heart of the city of Newark stood majestically on a hill amid the lush greenery of a park and the poignantly stark reality of urban decay, in a "bad part of town," to those who did not live there. From the chancery one could see the Manhattan skyline clearly, now palled by a sinister curtain of smoke and ash illumined by searchlights and bereft of its mighty towers of commerce. The cardinal had opened the doors of the church, which had been designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II upon his visit there in 1995, and hundreds of Catholics and other locals had streamed in for a special prayer service on this day of horror. The people had prayed the rosary with their shepherd and now leaned forward in the pews to hear his words. "So many in our local community have died, including firemen, policemen, rescue workers, Port Authority officials, and civilians who worked in he buildings that have collapsed. How many? Perhaps thousands of souls have perished. Others are lost, and we don't know whether they're dead or alive. Will they ever be found? Will their families ever know what has happened to them? How can we cope with the terrible grief and anger that we feel tonight? What will tomorrow bring? So many questions, and precious few comprehensible, acceptable answers. What then, are we to do? "First, my dear friends, we must pray. We must lift up our dead and lost brothers and sisters into God's waiting arms. We must ask our Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints to intercede, as the holy messengers they are, to carry the souls of our loved ones to the eternal rest that is the Father. We say very directly through our prayers: Receive them, Lord, here they are, lord, those who themselves passed through the horror as we here did not. And help us to find survivors who may be buried, clinging to life--if it be Your will". His own lungs still burned, and his eyes stung horribly; there were no more tears to cry, but the nerves and blood vessels ached, blurring his vision. He could still smell the stench of dust and death, and he only wanted to go back to the scene, the unspeakable vision of violence and devastation that was now being called Ground Zero--the very epicenter of the handiwork of the Evil One. When this prayer service was over he would return and stand by the men whose task now--indeed an impossible task--was to remove the shattered remains of steel, glass, and concrete that had buried their fallen comrades. An archbishop never for a waking moment forgot who and what he was: a man set apart from others as their shepherd and overseer. But in these terrible moments, Cardinal Mulrennan had felt as helpless and abjectly human as anyone-a man among his fellow men in their worst time of grief and terror. Still, the bishop's special ministry was such a part of his being that he could not stop himself; his mind and body had switched on a sort of spiritual autopilot- which had not yet switched off. For several hour he had walked among the people of the city, helped some of the injured find medical assistance prayed with firemen and emergency personnel, carried water and supplies to the front line of the rescue effort, looked for any familiar face-for any little sing of hope or comfort--but saw none The rescue work had been delayed for crucial hours by the scary instability of the site, devastated buildings on the verge of collapse, threatening the men on the ground. Police had pushed people toward the north, out of the war zone. A flood of dust-grimed men and women, refugees, flooded uptown on the streets and highways with remarkably little panic Mulrennan soon realized, after talking with firemen and medical teams who tended to the wounded on street corners, that hundreds of New York City and port Authority officers-fire and police-had been lost when they rushed to responds to the emergency. Radios were on everywhere and the news reports wafted through the air with the asbestos, soot, paper, and debris across the grid of chaos that was lower Manhattan… Father Gallagher had stood with him and walked with him each difficult step of the way, until both men's black clerical suits had turned white with the inescapable dust, their faces unrecognizable behind masks of grime. Every new secretary endured a lengthy training period with his bishop. For some it took a year or longer to get the hang of the job in all its complexity-and to learn the personality of the boss. This young priest was getting an education that neither he nor his archbishop could ever have imagined. "Second, we must tend to those who are left behind, whose lives have been torn asunder by this evil act. They need us now-and they will for a long times to come: the spouses and the children and the parent, the loved ones in the winder community .As never before, we must stand together in love and solidarity with each other. We must recommit to each other in the name of our Savior" Mulrennan wore the bright red choir vestments of his office, including the little red skullcap and the golden cross upon his chest. He had striped off the day's clothing and showered but had not eaten. His staff had attempted to sit him down to feed him something-soup, bread, anything-but he had refused. He desperately carved a smoke, but did not give in to that temptation. He had gone into his personal chapel in the chancery for some solitude and silence. Then he had come directly to the basilica where he greeted the faithful, welcomed them into the candlelit house of worship where he had been ordained a priest thirty-eight year before. Now he was their bishop and they came to him for say to then that made sense? He had not prepared a homily, but spoke from the gut. "Thirdly, we all must face judgment, we the living and the dead. The late Cardinal Hume wrote about judgment in this way: 'Judgment is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I had never been able to tell.' In this life, even with those we most love and trust, our story in never fully shared. Fear of being misuderstood, inability to understand our selves, ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or just shame, makes it very difficult to share. Therefore, so often, our story is not told in this life. Our brothers and sisters who have gone before us are right now telling God their stories and hearing His compassionate response. And finally we must reclaim our lives after the times of mourning. It may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine our families and our job ever being the same. It will require hard work and constant prayer to rebuild our lives. But God calls you to do so, for His sake, and for the sake of our children .Yes, we are afraid. Yes, we are sad. Yes, we are angry at the perpetrators of such a crime. And in such times God calls us more than ever to love our neighbor, to gives of ourselves without stint or favor. May we see the countenance of god before us in our efforts to change hearts and to go change the world .Now, as do each day in the Holy Mass, let us exchange with each other a sign of Christ's peace and love". He stepped down from the pulpit and mingled with the archdiocesan staff and his auxiliary bishops who sat before the altar .he embraced each man and woman as tearful congregation did the same, by the hundreds. Just a few hours before, at about five p.m., Young Father Gallagher had "rescued" the cardinal, who would probably still be wandering the gray-shrouded, shattered streets if he had not. Remarkably, he'd had the presence of mind to borrow Mulrennan's pocket date book, and on his cellular telephone he had contacted the chancery up at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He had then pulled Tim Mulrennan away from the field of death and destruction, and the two of them walked the forty blocks uptown, where the New York cardinal's people shoved them into a police car that took them across the closed-off George Washington Bridge at which one of Mulrennan's own men picked him up and transported him safely back to his home. Home…never to be the same again, but always his home. * * * Rome, December 24, 2002 * * * Kurt Schulhafer sat expectantly in the back pew of the nearly empty church a few hours before the midnight service was to begin that would herald the celebration of the birth of Christ. Years of discipline as an officer of the Vatican's Swiss Guard allowed him to maintain a rigidly calm outward appearance, even as he felt his internal organs churning with fear. The scents of burning candle wax and flowers mingled in the dense, dark air of the baroque structure. He kept his breathing even and shallow, his hands flat atop his knees. Colonel Kurt Schulhafer, the top uniformed commander of the men who guarded the person of the Holy Father, awaited his secret appointment with a man he had never met before, only spoken to in a brief telephone conversation. He was not accustomed to such cloak-and-dagger maneuvers but understood the necessity of extreme precautions in this situation. An immoral situation of his own creation. How had he come to this place, this turn of events, this evil? Had he not tried to live an upright, even spotless life in service to his Church and his God? When--how--why had it all turned sour and evil and wrong? He attempted to pray but could not. The words, the feelings would not come…the unalterable truth stood in the way. He closed his eyes and tried again: God--the single-syllable Name stuck like a fish hook somewhere between his intestines and his heart. The pain only grew worse. He remembered the first time he had seen Carl Boehmer, a recruit for the Guard, a stocky, rough-hewn mountain boy who knew not what he was getting into, five hundred miles from home and a million miles from the life he had known for the first nineteen years. A raw country recruit like hundreds of others before him. Why had he been different, special? Seven years ago…Schulhafer himself had been that much younger and further removed from his own mortality. He had been a captain of the Guard then, one of three company leaders of the uniformed group, proud, newly married and expecting a first child, hoping for a boy. His wife, Marta-Marie, had quickly lost her seemingly uncritical adoration of the men who wore the funny bumblebee uniform, as she came to call it. "Marching around like toy soldiers without guns," she said. "Who do you think you're protecting--or impressing?" She had spoken with a smile on her pretty pink lips, but the words stung worse than any bee could. "The great Michelangelo created these uniforms," he had protested. "I don't give a damn," was her reply. The resentment caused by those words did not fade away, in fact deepened and hardened as the years passed. He sat there on the hard bench in the dark church and heard her say it--and many other things--again and again. Was she aware how much her words, tossed at him so casually, had hurt him, had driven him away? Her voice echoed through his brain even now in this strange, unwelcoming place.… "Herr Schultz." The voice from behind and above startled the seated man, punctured the bubble of silence he had imagined would surround and protect him from evil. He turned to address the man but saw only a shadowy black from in the darkness, dimly backlit by a bank of devotional candles. "Yes," Schulhafer answered, acknowledging the agreed upon code name. Then he remembered the proper password response. He said, "Mass will begin soon for the faithful." "Well, my friend, we meet at last," the stranger said, coming around to join Schulhafer in the pew. He spoke in perfect German, but without an easily identifiable foreign or regional accent, though something about the voice-- about him--was faintly familiar. The scents of cologne and tobacco mingled cloyingly about him. "There is not much time, so let us get to the point." "This is difficult for me. I have never done such a thing, you must understand." He himself still did not understand how this man had known to approach him at just this time, when he was most desperate and confused--and afraid. It disturbed and frightened him: an anonymous phone call…a proposition…a meeting time and passwords…If this man, seemingly from nowhere, knew about his problem, then who else did? At least this was a potential solution--a way out--however terrible the method. "I do. I am a man of business, but also a man of faith. It is certainly not an easy or unconsidered matter we are dealing with. I am prepared to move forward if you direct me to do so. And if you have the money." "Yes, I have the money." Colonel Schulhafer scanned the nave of the church, looking for any familiar face or indication of threat. He wondered whether he would feel at ease, truly comfortable in his own skin, ever again. In the interior breast pocket of his woolen jacket was the key to a locker in the Termini, the railroad station, unmarked American notes, mostly one hundred-dollar bills. He had borrowed, begged, and lied to obtain such a large amount of cash--though it had not been as difficult as the decision to end another man's life. He fingered the key in his own pocket. Once he gave it over to the stranger, the decision was sealed. He wanted to ask many questions, but his tongue was frozen with fear. "Let me review the terms briefly--then I must ask you a question," the man said in perfectly modulated, clipped speech. He sounded to Schulhafer like a fellow military man. "Fifty thousand dollars cash, U.S.--untraceable. Half in advance. The task is to eliminate one Carl Boehmer, sergeant of the Swiss Guard, by whatever means deemed appropriate--" The ghostly figure had kept his face in near-complete shadow, so it was impossible for Schulhafer to get a clear view. He was not a large man but was bulked up by a dark topcoat. He paused, listened to the faint echo of his own voice, then continued. "At the earliest possible time. In fact, I will tell you, frankly, Her Schultz, that he shall be dead by tomorrow midnight, so you need not worry on that score." "Do you have to tell me this?" the Guard colonel interjected, now shifting nervously in the narrow wooden pew. "Yes, Mein Herr. And I require you to tell me something, before I carry out this mission." Schulhafer felt the killer's eyes bore into skull. "Why exactly do you require this man to die?" "You did not tell me this was a requirement." "I am telling you now, sir. It is what they call a deal-breaker. Although I have a notion, as I mentioned to you before, I must know , as a matter of professional interest." Schulhafer could not see the ghost's face but thought he detected a cruel smile there. He had no choice. He lifted the locker key from his inner pocket and discreetly slid it down and into other's open hand. Then he spoke in halting bursts. "He has threatened to blackmail me--ruin my family--he claims we had an affair--he is a homosexual and he says he will expose me unless I leave my wife and children. I believe he is insane. This is so wrong-- dangerous--my career will be over if this ever becomes known. And my family--" He tightly folded his hands and hung his head in shame. He wanted to be invisible, to die. "Is it true, what this man says?" the other pressed. Kurt Schulhafer hesitated. What did it matter now whether it were true or not? Boehmer was as good as dead. And why should he tell this criminal? He decided to bluff and hope for the best. "He actually believes it. I think he wanted to be--that is, he wanted me to be his lover. Usually we are quite able to able to screen out homosexuals in the application and training process. I don't think how he managed to keep it secret for so long." "We all have secrets, Colonel Schulhafer." He did not tell the colonel his secret: that he already knew what the colonel had so reluctantly revealed, and more; that Boehmer would, later the same night, "commit suicide" by gunshot into the roof of his mouth. "We agreed not to use real names," the Guard commander shot back, looking over his shoulder at the low arches behind the two seated men. It's time to go, he thought. The image of Carl Boehmer, the young Guard who had loved him recklessly and unspeakably, would not fade from his mind. He could see the face, the hundred planes and lines and valleys there, the simple handsome eyes that spoke silently and eloquently of hurt and jealously. The face that would soon be dead and forgotten by the living. He must go now. "No names," he emphasized. "Yes, you excuse me, please, for the lapse. We all have our lapses, too. Tell me the truth, my friend. I must know every aspect of the case, for my own protection. Who knows, you might wish to have me eliminated in the future. It is not unheard of in this business." "I don't see why--" "The most important thing--more important than you or I--is the truth. That is what this Church stands for, the purest truth man has ever known." He looked up to the ceiling and Schulhafer could now see his profile: a high brow, fine sculpted nose, and strong chin. "Untruth must be eliminated, like heresy. Do you see what I mean, sir?" "You are preaching to me of truth in this house of God, when we are arranging the elimination of a young man." "A homosexual blackmailer, a criminal. I can sleep at night, can you? I provide for my family, and I confess my sins. I do what I believe is God's will--even though sometimes I don't like it. Well, I don't have to like it, but I am required to accomplish His will to the best of my imperfect ability. Tell me then, in frankness, between men: Are you afraid of Boehmer because he is telling the truth?" Schulhafer was afraid as he had never been, for his own life and for his family. What would happen to them if this terrible thing became public knowledge? Yes, he was afraid of Boehmer, a mercurial, uneducated young man.… Often these men were stolid Alpine stock, bred to conform, intellectually uncurious. Only male Swiss citizens under thirty years old, at least five-foot-eight, single, and "of good character" may apply to join the Guardia Svizzera Pontificia . The duty is not onerous: eight-to ten-hour shifts, divided among the three squads, known as Geschwader , of thirty to forty men. Single men were expected to remain celibate, maintain strict moral conduct always. Most importantly, they had to be able to look good in the somewhat ridiculous regalia they were required to don: uniforms of red, yellow, orange, and blue felt strips, plumed metal helmets or black berets, knee socks, armed with halberds and concealed nine-millimeter pistols. The hundred-man military force, separate from the regular civilian-run police force, called the Ufficio Centrale di Vigilanza (or just the Vigilanza), has been the pope's personal bodyguard since 1509 and is headquartered off the Porta Sant' Anna entrance to Vatican City. They take a special oath--called the Giuraménto --to protect the Supreme Pontiff and, during the vacancy of the Holy See, the Sede Vacante , the entire Sacred College of Cardinals, who must bury the dead pope, temporarily administer Church affairs, and then elect the successor within a two- to three-week span. So these modern-day mercenaries, heirs to a noble tradition of loyalty to the person of the Holy Father. On May 6, 1527, nearly one hundred fifty Guards (of the 189 then in existence) were massacred by Germen Protestant invaders in St. Peter's Basilica. The surviving contingent helped the Medici pope, Clement VII, escape to the Castel Sant' Angelo, and subsequent pontiffs never forgot that act of self-sacrifice. When Paul VI reorganized the papal security system, only the Swiss Guard remained intact when other units were disbanded or reconfigured. Every year, May 6 is commemorated with special ceremonies and a papal mass. The usual tour of duty was two years, but Schulhafer was a "lifer," with eighteen years under his belt. He had made it a career, and a somewhat comfortable one, with retirement not far off in the future. He would still be young enough to enjoy the rest of his life in his home canton of Wallis, where his parents and brothers still lived. Within the past year he had served at two historic papal funerals, occasions of splendor and sadness, complex logistical and security challenges, events that required him and his men to put into practice the intense training they had all undergone. Yes, they were ceremonial adjuncts, but an integral part of the pontifical traditions at the gate of the unknown figure. His heart had swelled with pride at the performance of the Guard--crisp, professional, unobtrusive yet ever-present throughout the funeral ceremonies. He had been especially proud of Vice-corporal Boehmer, his protégé and friend, who executed his tasks and led his men almost flawlessly throughout the days of mourning under the glare of international press scrutiny. How had such love and admiration turned into this--this terrible necessity, this sinful ending of a human life? The last time he had spoken with Carl Boehmer, several days ago, had been emblematic of the place they had come to in their troubled relationship. Carl had come unexpectedly to Schulhafer's residence in Vatican City, the apartment he shared with his wife and son. Marta-Marie had answered the doorbell, welcomed Carl inside and called for her husband. The boy, Josef, was napping, a blessed and unusual relief for the parents on a Saturday afternoon. It was a scene of apparent domestic stability and serenity, and the younger Swiss Guard officer stood there awkwardly, his broad shoulders hunched, observing the quiet scene. Schulhafer pecked his wife on her cheek and came to the door. "Carl, what do you want?" he asked, keeping his voice low and even. His own heart thumped wildly within his chest, attuned to the danger and electricity of this potentially unwelcome, unfriendly confrontation. "Colonel, I am sorry to disturb you at home, but I must talk to you." He looked up at the taller man, his superior and lover, with the penetrating, brown-eyed gaze of a spurned pet. "Let us go outside," Schulhafer said. "It's not--I don't mean to intrude in your home, but--" "I understand. We will go out." This Swiss Guard colonel matter-of-factly told his wife he must leave for a while, would be back soon, and he took his hat and winter jacket as he left with Boehmer. The two men went downstairs and outside, exited Vatican City through the familiar gate with a wave to colleagues at the guard station. Did any of them know? Schulhafer wondered, more than idly. Or suspect? He jammed his hands in the pockets of the jacket and walked, head down, at a brisk clip until they were several blocks from the Vatican. He had not said a word, nor had Carl Boehmer. Finally the younger man broke the silence between them. "Kurt, I have missed You, I need to see You, to be with you. Why are you pushing me away like this? What have I done?" "I told you, we must stop seeing other. It is wrong." "Why wrong? When we are together…I know it is difficult for you with your family. I will make it as easy as possible. I am not going to upset your life, but I have to see you, I can't end our friendship like this. It's not wrong, not at all." It's more than you and me. I mean, my wife doesn't suspect anything, but if we continue she might--she's not stupid. I need her. I love her. It cannot continue, you and me. And we have to work together. It's not right many reasons, Carl." "You're afraid. I understand that. I can help you. But don't cut me off, don't end it like this, I beg you." "Don't say that. Don't make me the bad guy. Believe me, it's not easy for me, either, but I must do the right thing, for many reasons." He pulled his hands from the pockets and held them at his side as they walked, the frosty December air biting at their faces. Schulhafer hated confrontation, preferring gentlemanly agreement between friends. He had confessed his mortal sin to a new confessor, an American priest, who had immediately required, as penance, that the Swiss Guard commandant end the relationship with the younger man--without delay or hesitation, no matter the emotional upset it would cause either party. He had hoped the American would be more open, more liberal, but had been disappointed--again. So, Kurt Schulhafer had indeed broken off with Boehmer several days earlier. But Carl had not accepted the end of their relationship. Tears clouded the colonel's vision as he sat in the dark church. Why was this man whom he did not know forcing him to reveal his innermost secrets? As much as he had dreaded taking this step, he now faced an abyss to which he thought he had turned his back. Dear God, I am sorry, I am so sorry, forgive me! "I thought I loved him, and that he loved me," he finally admitted. "How could you do such a thing?" the stranger asked. "This is contrary to the law of God and law of the Church. You are treading very dangerous ground, Herr Schultz." The other man, Boehmer, would pay the ultimate price for his unspeakable crime. "I do not submit myself to your judgment, only to God's." "Sometimes God uses men to achieve His works, even imperfect men like you and me. After all, He put us on earth and created us in His image and likeness for some reason--to reflect His love back to Him in the best way we can." The stranger fingered the proferred key, then deposited it inside his coat. His hand lingered there. He turned to look directly at Kurt Schulhafer. "We do what we can for Him," the man repeated. "Especially in these evil times." "I have tried. God knows--" The Swiss Guard commandant drew in his breath sharply as he saw the dull glint of the knife blade sliding from beneath the other's dark coat. "What are you going to do?" he asked, cursing his own stupidity. Swiftly, but gently, the killer placed his right hand on Schulhafer's arm and leaned toward him. His left hand pushed the ten-inch serrated blade deep into the colonel's abdomen, puncturing the intestines. He then pulled up, along the rib cage, with a powerful, practiced stroke, like a butcher. The tip of the blade angled up and just nicked the heart. Blood rapidly filled the body cavity and spilled onto Schulhafer's legs. The murderer removed a dark towel from his coat, wiped his hand, and dropped the towel on the dying man's lap. After removing the colonel's wallet and ID badge and papers, to confuse and delay identification, he made certain that Kurt Schulhafer remained upright. The he rose from the pew and strode quickly to the church door, moving like a ghost through mist and shadow into the silent night of sacred anticipation, the killing blade secured beneath his own coat. Copyright © 2002 by Greg Tobin Excerpted from Council by Greg Tobin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.