Declan Walsh, a former law school dean, becomes chief justice of the United States. But after his wife dies, Walsh resigns to become a Trappist monk. When the Roman Catholic pope dies in a plane crash, Walsh succeeds him, taking the name Pope Francesco I—Italian for Francis.

That is the plot outline—minus the dramatic ending—of the 1979 bestselling novel The Vicar of Christ, a pioneer in the still-growing genre of Supreme Court-related fiction.

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