Yes, I've said for years that we need to avoid letting them drag us into the Baptism of Desire debates. Honestly, it's not something that, when held in a proper Catholic sense, really has that much of an impact on the faith. I don't believe in it, but then St. Thomas, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Alphonsus, etc. did. So I'm never going to condemn a Catholic who holds that opinion as a heretic ... not until the Church explicitly condemns it. At this time, however, I see it as merely a disagreement among Catholics.
But of all of the dozens and dozens of BoDers on this forum, we have run into maybe two or thee who limited BoD to the case of someone who had explicit Catholic faith and intended to join the Church. And I have had no theological issues with them. One poster, Arvinger, who happened to believe in BoD, was actually ON OUR SIDE of the EENS debate, and I considered him an ally.
Yet 99% of BoDers have a hidden agenda. They are not concerned about the extremely rare case of a catechumen who happened to die before Baptism. They would not spend so much energy on this position if that's all there was to it. No, their concern is to find exceptions to EENS ... because they find the EENS doctrine unpleasant. Whether it's because they have family members who died outside the faith, or because they have an emotional reaction against the loss of so many souls (cf. Father Cekada's admission), they cling to this idea that there's a way around EENS.
But, historically, NO CHURCH FATHER ever considered the notion of BoD as applicable to anyone other than a formal catechumen. Even Karl "Anonymous Christian" Rahner admitted this. At least Rahner had intellectual honesty ... which many Traditional Catholics lack; some of these Trad Catholics promote the lie that the Church Fathers were universally in favor of BoD.
“. . . we have to admit . . . that the testimony of the Fathers, with regard to the possibility of salvation for someone outside the Church, is very weak. Certainly even the ancient Church knew that the grace of God can be found also outside the Church and even before Faith. But the view that such divine grace can lead man to his final salvation without leading him first into the visible Church, is something, at any rate, which met with very little approval in the ancient Church. For, with reference to the optimistic views on the salvation of catechumens as found in many of the Fathers, it must be noted that such a candidate for baptism was regarded in some sense or other as already ‘Christianus,’ and also that certain Fathers, such as Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa deny altogether the justifying power of love or of the desire for baptism. Hence it will be impossible to speak of a consensus dogmaticus in the early Church regarding the possibility of salvation for the non-baptized, and especially for someone who is not even a catechumen. In fact, even St. Augustine, in his last (anti-pelagian) period, no longer maintained the possibility of a baptism by desire.” (Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, Volume II, Man in the Church, translated by Karl H. Kruger, pp.40, 41, 57)
This notion that any non-catechumens could be saved was anathema to them, and especially repugnant and heretical was the idea that infidels could be saved.
Even St. Robert Bellarmine, who is cited in favor of BoD, strictly limited the possibility to formal catechumens. His question (in Thomistic format) was "whether catechumens [who die before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism] can be saved." NOT, whether a Hindu in Tibet can be saved.
Now, at some point, this theory slightly shifted to include not merely formal catechumens but also anyone with explicit belief in the Holy Trinity and Incarnation. With this belief, then, the desire to receive Baptism could be considered as implicitly present in the will to obey God in all things.
Then in the year 1600, the Jesuit innovators introduced the idea that people could be saved just by believing in a Rewarder God. They concocted this theory in order to allow all manner of pagans to be saved.
As this theory gradually gained momentum, the slide towards Vatican II became inevitable.
Since no one could deny the dogma ... since it has been defined explicitly several times in no uncertain terms ... that there can be no salvation outside the Church, the only way to claim that pagans could be saved was to find a way to include them in the Church and therefore effectively redefine the Church. As an end-around to EENS, then, since you can't say there's salvation outside the Church, they went and redefined the criteria by which people could be inside the Church ... completely overturning Tridentine ecclesiology which dogmatically taught that the Church is a visible society with external visible criteria for membership.
See what that does to Catholic ecclesiology? It turns it into the subsistence ecclesiology of Vatican II, that not only do you have a visible core of Catholics who are in the Church, but you also have these satellite members who although materially and visibly separated from this subsistent core, are nevertheless within the Church. So the fullness of belonging to the Church now admits of degrees. We have the notion of "separated brethren" who are formally united to us while materially divided.
ALL OF VATICAN II flows directly from this new ecclesiology developed in order to undermine EENS. EENS is absolutely, without a doubt, the core theological issue of this day ... even though some ... like Matthew here on CI ... claim that it doesn't matter. Nonsense. Nothing matters more. Without this new ecclesiology built on EENS-denial, there is no Vatican II crisis. Period. Yet so few Traditional Catholics understand this. They continue to condemn Vatican II ecclesiology on one side of their mouth, but then promote it on the other without even knowing it.
So those BoDers who insist that infidels can be saved, DISHONESTLY fling out pro-BoD quotes they claim prove that pagans can be saved, when they in fact do no such thing. In fact, there was no bigger proponent of Tridentine visible-society ecclesiology than one St. Robert Bellarmine, and they would attribute to him support for the exact opposite Vatican II ecclesiology. These folks are not honest.
But we who defend Traditional ecclesiology, need to resist the urge to fight them on the BoD issue, since they use it to distract us and run away from the broader ecclesiological and soteriological issue.