Rorate Caeli

"We Don't Want to Convert Young People to Christ or the Catholic Church": Francis's New Cardinal Denies The Great Commission


"Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Known as "the Great Commission," spreading the Gospel and making converts is a basic duty of all Christians, as set forth by Our Lord in sacred scripture. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis reiterated this call in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

But the results of the Church's evangelization efforts during Francis's pontificate have been disappointing, to say the least. In Francis's native South America, Catholicism has been losing members in large numbers to Pentecostalism. Francis's home country of Argentina has seen the biggest decline, with the Catholic share plummeting from 76% to 49% in the last decade. Germany, which has fulsomely embraced Francis's "synodality" and repudiated core Catholic teachings, has seen a record 500,000 leave the Church just in the last year. And due to the Vatican's financial difficulties and incompetent administration, it can no longer fund missionary activities. 

It does not help that Pope Francis's teachings increasingly emphasize religious indifferentism. Yesterday, Francis announced that he was appointing 49-year old Lisbon Auxiliary Bishop Americo Aguiar as a Cardinal, despite the fact that he is still only an auxiliary bishop and the appointment means that Lisbon now has two cardinals at the same time. Bishop Aguiar, who was a Socialist city council member in Portugal in the 1990s, recently set forth a worldview that negates the need for evangelization. Speaking of World Youth Day, which he is helping to organize, Bishop Aguiar denied that the purpose of the event was to convert souls to the Church: "We don't want to convert young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that." Instead, he said that the "main message" of the event was, "I think differently, I feel differently, I organize my life differently, but we are brothers and we are going to build the future together." He drove home the point that atheism was part of cultural "richness" that the event promotes. He connected his message to that of Pope Francis and his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, "which the Pope has made a megalomanic effort to make echo in the hearts of all." And indeed, Aguiar's message echoes Pope Francis's recent "Declaration on Human Fraternity," which exalts 'fraternity' and vague social goals, but contains no mention of Christ or the Gospel-- and gives hearty, unqualified praise to religious pluralism. Whatever one might make of this message, it is one that seems to prioritize social harmony over evangelization and conversion-- and thus is not the message of Christ.

Similar theological threads can be found in the writings of Fr. James Martin, whom Francis recently named to the Synod on Synodality. Fr. Martin has said that Christ may even command people to apostatize in the name of serving "the greater good." Fr. Martin again connects these views to Francis, who (Fr. Martin states) "emphasizes discernment for people facing complicated situations, where a black-and-white approach seems inadequate" and the "normal rules seem inadequate to the situation." These heterodox views also find favor with others close to Francis, such as Cardinal Hollerich (relator general of the Synod on Synodality) and soon-to-be-Cardinal Tucho Fernandez (the new head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Thus, a pontificate that began by proclaiming the need for evangelization ends by embracing something that seems disturbingly close to the "dictatorship of relativism" denounced by Cardinal Ratzinger: "Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be 'tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,' seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism." It remains to be seen whether Francis's approach will "bear fruit that will endure."