John Flaherty (Christopher Reeve) is a young and ambitious American priest who arrives in the Papal Sovereign city state of the Vactican in 1944 to take his holy orders as a catholic priest. After distinguishing himself in combat in the World War II battlefields of northern Italy, he's assigned as the Vactican treasurer. With the Vactican strapped for money during the war, Flaherty soon makes illegal business deals with a corrupt U.S. Army sergeant, named Varese (Joseph Cortese), who deals goods on the local black market which is connected to a ruthless Sicilian mobster, named Don Appolini (Jason Miller). Appolini agrees to fund Flaherty's operation for profit through his Swiss bank connections. Flaherty's mentor, Cardinal Santoni (Fernando Rey), the secretary to the elderly but powerful Pope (Leonardo Cimino), learns of Flaherty's business deals, but covers for Flaherty in order for them to rise in the ranks of the church against Santoni's rival, Cardinal Vinci (Adolfo Celi). But Flaherty's double life as a black marketeer and priest takes a turn when he falls in love with a young French nun, named Clara (Genevieve Bujold), who knows of his dealings, but not of his true identity to the Catholic Church.