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I remember reading the beginning of this as a hardback book around the 1990 time frame. The cover had a robot, purple I want to say, in robes, or at least draped with cloth. At the very beginning of the book, scientists open a portal that leads to Heaven, but are forcibly ejected. I want to say that it was because of the robot, which was found to be an abomination. Unfortunately, then the details leave me, but that scene at the beginning of being cast out of heaven, as well as the depiction of the robot, stuck in my head. Also, I want to say that there's something about a pope...

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As sometimes happens when I post these questions, rubber-duck debugging kicks in and I find it. Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak.

Book cover

The return of Simak's favorite themes--including esp, robots & religion--in a thoughtful, gentle, delightfully original treatment. On the remote planet End of Nothing, a colony of advanced robots has established project Vatican-17: the building of an infallible computerized pope whose accumulated wisdom will eventually create a truly universal religion. Gathering data for the omnivorous Pope are the Listeners, humans with ESP whose agile minds probe thru time & space. Also hanging about, on the fringes of the utopian settlement, is reclusive, anachronistic Thomas Decker & his invisible companion, Whisperer, a childlike alien of awesome latent powers. Best of all in this cast of charmers are some wonderfully Simakian robots: a beguilingly crusty electronic Pope & his splendidly idiosyncratic robot Cardinals. A lovely place--but then Listener Mary appears to have discovered Heaven (literally); the resulting rancorous dispute (Decker is murdered by a robot, there's a movement to canonize the now-insane Mary) threatens to tear Vatican-17 apart; & the conclusion--involving some secretive, puissant autochthones, trips to weird worlds, a Decker clone & a trio of peevish, megalomaniac aliens--is carried thru with just the right blend of wackiness & humility....

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