In the wake of the debacle over Cardinal-Designate Americo Aguiar’s remarks that World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 doesn’t intend to “convert” any youth because its goal was rather some kind of amorphous exercise in “fraternity,” somebody apparently sent out a “Lisbon, We Have a Problem” alert. The usual defensive mechanisms sprang into place: whenever a hierarch today utters something utterly off-the-wall, there follows efforts to walk back those off-the-wall remarks.

It started with Bishop Aguiar himself. He certainly never meant to suggest that WYD shouldn’t bring youth — even non-Catholic youth — to “God.” No, the head of WYD 2023 and auxiliary bishop of Lisbon hopes all young people have a positive “experience of God” there.

But that “God” has a name. And that God revealed Himself and spoke His Word, who is “Jesus Christ.” Why the allergy to the Name (cf Acts 5:40-41)?

Sure, it looks great to speak of an “experience of God,” but I fear the expression is just so many more soapsuds in the eyes of the faithful, offering a sop while advancing an agenda. Frankly, I think Aguiar’s July 6th comments were quite accurate in terms of his thinking: while organized by the Church, this is a gathering of world youth (most of them admittedly Catholic) assembled to celebrate “fraternity” and “diversity” among those who believe in Somebody or Something. It might be G-d, it might be Allah; for non-believers it might be “social justice” or even “the Force be with you.” Then they will all go home, appreciative of religious diversity, with the added benefit of knowing there are still so many folks who recognize something bigger than themselves (but don’t be “triumphalist” about that).

That’s why, until I hear an explicitly Christocentric focus from Aguiar and Pope Francis, I’m not buying the bishop’s “clarification” nor modifying my argument that we are watching the dumbing down of WYD.

The next line-of-defense is that Bishop Aguiar was quoted out of context and, therefore, willfully misunderstood: all he opposed was “active proselytism.”

Three responses: (1) Except as a bugaboo in Pope Francis’s mind, who can cite any example in recent decades of an event run under explicit Catholic institutional auspices that involved outright, aggressive proselytism? (2) Since Aguiar is regarded as something of an ecclesial media spokesman and celebrity in Portugal, why are we to believe he was just innocently unaware of how his remarks might be taken? (3) After ten years of this pontificate, why are there still constant “communications” problems? Might the problem lie in the confused theology behind it?

Two essays on the “Where Peter Is” site attempt to spin the controversy. Claire Domingues and Pedro Gabriel would have us believe that Aguiar was really just channeling his inner-Josef Ratzinger. They quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Christmas address to the Curia, in which he noted that interreligious dialogue “does not aim at conversion but understanding.”

But WYD is not a gathering of ecumenists or practitioners of interreligious dialogue. It is a gathering of primarily Catholic youth. I expect most people (including most parents paying big bucks to send their children there) expected the focus to be Catholic: explicitly and unabashedly….

From Catholic World Report