The Catholic Church has now become a ruling force in America. However, it has been warped and commerce and pop culture are now part of its tenets. Emmett Fairbanks is a pathetic, self-involved cardinal in charge of the Laserus area, or Los Angeles. However, the Pope dies, and Emmett is one of the two main contenders for the job. His rival is Cardinal Harvey Milk Robertson, from the Basic diocese (San Francisco).
Emmett is partly cybernetic, and constantly focuses on his physical failings. He goes in for regular check-ups with his archdeacon, Derek Hayes, whom he also uses as a confessor. Harvey, on the other hand, seems supremely confident and able.
The Laserus diocese is trying to create a drug called Primacin, that promises heaven on Earth, but it is having problems. When Emmett visits, they inject it into a monkey, and the monkey speaks, then bashes its brains out. The church will never permit this. They keep trying to fix the drug, but the Church is also investigating. Time is running out. Emmett wants the Church to pick the new pope before the drug's release.
Harvey comes out forcefully against both the drug and Grendel as man-made versions of god and the devil. He seems to be in the lead for getting the job as pope. He manages to get the decision about the pope postponed. Then he shows a video of another monkey being injected with Primacin. Emmett is done for.
He finds out that Derek Hayes is a traitor and has been sending Emmett's confessional information to Harvey in return for a better job. Emmett commits suicide by injecting himself with Primacin.