ROME – In Cervantes’ famed novel Don Quixote, the lead character is a deluded noble who imagines himself a knight and lives in a chivalric world of his own imagination. The story has proved so popular it’s even given us a word, “quixotic,” to mean someone who’s unrealistic, impractical, driven by unattainable ideals.

If Cervantes were alive today and living in Italy, he wouldn’t need to dream up such a figure. All he’d probably need to do is to follow around Father Alessandro Maria Minutella.

Minutella, who’ll turn 47 in September, is a Sicilian priest who was declared excommunicated latae santentiae by Cardinal Corrado Lorefice of Palermo in 2017, for the crimes of “heresy and schism.” He’s a fierce traditionalist who now aspires to lead what he calls the “Catholic resistance,” forming a “small remnant” who spurn the “false Bergoglian church” (a reference to Pope Francis’s given name) and declare their allegiance to Pope Benedict XVI (who, of course, has never solicited such a following.)

“I’m just an instrument, a simple donkey of Mary,” Minutella has said of his position. “I am not afraid of Bergoglian contempt and the shame it merits, in order to make those souls who wish to be saved aware of the anti-Christian nature of this absurd messianism.”

Here’s his ten-point indictment of Francis.

  1. Permitting communion for the divorced and remarried in Amoris Laetitia
  2. Indifference to Marian dogmas
  3. Stressing mercy to the exclusion of judgment
  4. A document on human fraternity signed by Francis in Abu Dhabi, which he asserts reflects “religious syncretism”
  5. Neglect of mission (in the sense of making converts to Christianity)
  6. Neo-Arianism, effectively denying the divinity of Christ
  7. Rehabilitating Martin Luther and Judas Iscariot
  8. “Nebulous” eschatology
  9. Calling clerical celibacy into question through the Amazon synod
  10. Idolatry of the “Pachamama,” an Amazonian fertility figure, during the synod

This past Sunday, Minutella brought his act to Rome.

Under a tree along a street named for one of the early popes, Minutella spent four and a half hours celebrating the old Mass, delivering catechesis, offering a homily and leading prayers and the singing of psalms. He drew a crowd described by one sympathetic observer as in the hundreds, including people “of all ages and social classes, all wearing masks and practicing social distancing,” drawn by word-of-mouth in traditionalist Catholic circles.

The Rome event was part of a barnstorming tour of Italy that will also take Minutella to the regions of Veneto, Piedmont, the Marches and Tuscany.

To be clear, Minutella is nobody’s fool. He holds a doctorate in the history of Christian dogma from Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University, having written his dissertation on the eschatology of famed Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. When it was published in book form, it was even reviewed favorably by L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

However, Minutella’s inspiration isn’t restricted to the theological classics. He also claims to receive private revelations, which initially caused the Archdiocese of Palermo to order him to silence in 2015. It didn’t really take hold, as Minutella went on to publicly accuse Pope Francis of heresy in the wake of Amoris Laetitia.

In 2017 he was removed as pastor of his parish, leading to the excommunication decree a year later, at a time when Minutella was advising his followers – 43,000 on his Facebook page – not even to enter churches where pastors remain loyal to Francis, in order to avoid doubts about the validity of the sacraments. To those who object that they don’t have access to priests such as Minutella but still want to go to Mass, he’s unyielding.

“The Mass is very important, but it’s even more important to conserve the faith in its integrity,” he said.

However, Minutella’s revolution is mostly virtual, since it’s really only archconservative media and sites in Italy that are paying any attention. The powerful Italian bishops’ conference, CEI, hasn’t even bothered issuing a public statement about it, probably because even assuming all 43,000 people who follow Minutella on Facebook are in lockstep with him – and some likely follow him just out of curiosity, others for something akin to opposition research – that’s still only about .08 percent of Italy’s total Catholic population.

Granted, there’s a swath of Catholics who would share at least some of Minutella’s diagnosis. A few are admirers of Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who’s probably closest to Minutella’s position, having not only called for Francis’s resignation but also recently appearing to reject the Second Vatican Council. A much larger and more diverse cluster of conservative opinion would take issue with this or that decision made by Francis, while likely also finding things to appreciate.

All of that, however, is a world away from embracing open revolt and rushing for the barricades.

Yet while Minutella may be tilting at windmills, he shows no signs of abandoning his quest. Recently, he issued an open challenge to theologians, academics and even bishops sympathetic to the pope to join him  in a roundtable discussion, on the condition that a neutral moderator be found to guide the discussion.

How productive such an exchange might be is open to question, but there’s no doubt it would be entertaining — another instance, perhaps, of life imitating art, in this case with Cervantes as the one who probably ought to be flattered.

Follow John Allen on Twitter at @JohnLAllenJr.