John XXIV or the Resurrection of Don Quixote

November 30, 2021
Msgr. Giuseppe La Placa, Bishop of Ragusa

During a recent visit to Ragusa, Pope Francis spoke of the romantic figure of “John XXIV,” the hero of the eponymous novel, which, more than half a century ago, featured the figure of a future Argentine pope, Jesuit, and reformer.

Why evoke here the novel written by R.P. Leonardo Castellani, a religious expelled from the Society of Jesus and suspended a divinis in 1949, before being re-established in 1966, at a time of triumphant progressivism?

On September 27, Francis met the Bishop of Ragusa, Italy, Msgr. Giuseppe La Placa. During the interview, the bishop invited the sovereign pontiff to Ragusa in 2025, for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the diocese. The Pope replies: “In 2025, it will be John XXIV who will make the visit!”

Now, in 1964, under the pseudonym Jeronimo del Rey, Leonardo Castellani, published a novel featuring a reforming pope wishing to bring the Church back to its original purity, with the title: Juan XXIII (XXIV) o sea La resurrecion de Don Quijote [John XXIII (XXIV), or the Resurrection of Don Quixote], a work not translated to this day.

The main character of the novel, Fr. Pio Ducadelia, Argentinian of Italian origin, looks like the author: a religious “Hieronymite” – the image of the Society of Jesus - who was forbidden to celebrate Mass, was suddenly rehabilitated in his functions and sent to Rome as advisor to the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Second Vatican Council has just started.

Due to a conflict between the USSR and Europe, the sessions are transferred to the Lateran Palace. At the council, discussions continue against a backdrop of uncertainties. Pio Ducadelia took part as a pontifical theologian after having seduced Pope John XXIII with reform proposals aimed at fighting “the impersonal bureaucracy in the management of ecclesiastical questions.”

To achieve this, Ducadelia proposed a “decentralization of the Roman government by appointing patriarchs, as was the case in the 5th century,” and the constitution of a “Pope's Council” made up of twelve experts, “each affiliated to a branch. of the government.”

He suggests to the Pope, to avoid any financial scandal, that “neither the bishops nor the religious orders may own credits of any kind,” and that “ecclesiastical property” should rather be “invested in real property, the income of which would be entrusted to the Carthusians and the Trappists.”

But the council must be hastily closed in the face of the advance of the Soviets, and John XXIII is soon forced to take the path of exile, where he will die after having recommended - in front of what remains of the Sacred College - that his successor be elected by three voters only. Pio Ducadelia was captured and taken to Russia, where he was tortured.

On his return to Rome, he discovered, to his amazement, that he had been elected Pope. As a sign of filial veneration, he decides to take the name of his predecessor, John.

Barely installed, John XXIV explains that the main task of his pontificate will be to fight for “the interior purity” of the Church and against what is for him “ecclesiastism,” which he describes as follows: “These are all these great decrepit prelates who do not want a change in the Church because everything is going well for them as it is.”

To lead this “battle for interior purity,” Ducadelia reduces the Vatican bureaucracy by two thirds, as well as the salaries of the Roman Curia, not without discontent. He leaves the apostolic palace, travels on the metro, sells certain treasures, and does not cease to slay, even on his deathbed, the “Pharisaism in the Church,” which will prevent him from seeing his dream come true.

It is difficult not to see in the figure of John XXIV a kind of anticipation of the current pontificate. Indeed, Francis’s humor regarding the bishop of Ragusa invites us to do so.

We can also notice that the Argentine pontiff tried to initiate the reforms of the Church that Castellani imagined in his novel: some would say that Pope Francis, foreseeing the impasse in which his pontificate finds itself, and perhaps knowing that his days are numbered, wishes that a successor could complete the work he has begun, like the hero of the novel.

The future will tell if reality meets fiction, and to what extent the Argentine Pope will have resurrected Fr. Castellani's Don Quixote.

It should be noted, however, that Pope Francis, according to an article in La Croix newspaper on May 29, had already made the same remark to a head of state - who is not named in the article - at a similar invitation.

The Osservatore Romano published two articles on Fr. Leonardo Castellani in 2015, the French translations of which are available on