Trent Horn: Dangers of Progressive Catholicism Book Review

Trent Horn: Dangers of Progressive Catholicism Book Review April 24, 2024

In the introduction to his new book, Confusion in the Kingdom: How “Progressive” Catholicism is Bringing Harm and Scandal to the Church, author and apologist Trent Horn explains his motives for writing a book many will see as divisive.

He states:

As long as someone affirms what the Church teaches, rejects what the Church opposes, and allows for disagreement on matters the Church has no teaching on, I generally have no qualms with him. But I do have qualms with the liberal Catholic who ignores what is obligatory, celebrates what is evil, and dogmatizes what can be a matter of reasonable disagreement. [emphasis added]

He continues:

Instead of making the good obligatory [as conservatives tend to do], it more often makes evil permissible. It sows confusion about whether it’s okay to engage in homosexual conduct, have an abortion, or us contraception. And instead of making the permissible forbidden, it more often makes the obligatory optional. [emphasis added]

Moreover, as someone who also writes on the dangers of progressive Catholicism, Horn’s book comes at a critical moment within the Church. Many will criticize and write off Horn’s book as just another attempt at the “culture wars” by a conservative Catholic. However, given the well-researched and thorough examination of primary progressive sources, like The Catholic Reporter, America, Commonweal, Where Peter Is, and figures like Fr. James Martin, S.J., Horn presents an exceptionally damning case against progressive Catholicism.

Below I highlight some of his best arguments and key points. I also highly recommend this book to any serious Catholic thinker. Five out of five stars.

Sexual Ethics

If one topic gets progressive Catholics riled up, it is the Church’s teaching regarding sexual ethics. Engaging in writing in support of the Church’s position on human sexuality long enough guarantees the eventual label of “culture warrior,” “idealogue,” or even worse – “conservative.” Now, progressive Catholics, like Fr. James Martin, may scoff at this accusation, but Horn provides the proof. In reference to Motte and Bailey doctrine, Horn makes the following observation.

A person will occupy the “baily,” or hold a desirable view that is logically weak and therefore easy to refute (like a liberal Catholic who says Pete Buttigieg is “married”). Then, when the baily is under attack (like when faithful Catholics point out that the Church says these are not marriages), the person will retreat to the less desirable view that is easier to defend –the motte. For Fr. Martin, that is the qualification that Pete Buttigieg is “legally married.”

Another name for this strategy is the “bait and switch.” And, as someone who engages in debates with progressive Catholics, I can attest to the frequent use of the Motte and Baily tactic. In fact, it may get used in the comment section of this very article.

Ideology and Sex

Moreover, the issue of sexual ethics leads into what constitutes a valid or invalid Catholic anthropology. Recently, the Vatican addresses this topic with the document Dignitas Infinita (DI). To read my take on the document, please click here. Contrary to valid Catholic anthropology, progressive Catholics tend to mimic the current cultural zeitgeist, which, in turn, causes confusion, harm, and scandal. In full agreement with DI, Horn quotes the late Pope Benedict XVI in 2008:

What is often expressed and understood by the term “gender” ultimately ends up being man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator.

Furthermore, Horn minces no words in his criticism of progressive priest, Fr. Daniel Horan. Fr. Horan often criticizes “conservatives” for their outdated anthropology based in Thomistic philosophy that identify categories of man, women, and human as immutable.

Also, it’s ironic that Fr. Horan complains about critics having no universal definition of “gender ideology” but see no problem with transgender advocates having no universal definition of “woman.” They don’t even have a definition beyond useless circular ones like “a woman is anyone who claims to be a woman.”

For the record, Fr. Horan, the anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas IS the anthropology of the Catholic Church. You, and others, may desire to change this fact, but the fact remains.

Pro-Life Vs. Other Issues

Many progressive Catholics complain that Catholics in general focus too much on abortion and not enough on “other life” issues like poverty, immigration, and the environment. They often turn to the “seamless garment” of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to place abortion on the same level as poverty, immigration, and the environment. In response, Horn directly quotes Cardinal Bernadine and his displeasure with those on the “left” who took his concept and misused it. Horn makes a poignant observation of making abortion merely one among many issues.

… making abortion just “one issue among many” doesn’t increase the urgency of addressing other issues—it just decreases the urgency of helping the unborn and justifies ignoring them. [emphasis added]

Horn’s Conclusions

Trent Horn’s book covers many other topics not addressed in this review, such as: feminist theology, liberation theology, Eucharistic theology, biblical reliability, apologetics, racism, and gun violence. In short, this book covers all the hot button issues progressive Catholics care about and the future they envision for the Catholic Church. Horn ends his book on a sad note. He laments that progressive Catholicism fails the people that need God and His Church the most. Regarding progressive Catholicism, he states:

It causes them [those who need God and His Church] to downplay the spiritual view of conscience and culpability. Because they haven’t fully hardened their hearts by becoming full-blown dissenters, they can still hear God’s voice calling them to repent of supporting or engaging in sins like sodomy and abortion. However, instead of responding to God’s voice, they turn inward and find unhelpful outlets for their natural religiosity. For example, whereas they allow freedom of conscience for the most hardened sexual libertine who says he’s Catholic, they fixate on Catholics who own guns or note Republican, claiming they are really the ones who need to repent, because the are “ruining the Church.”

Final Thoughts…

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate my assessment that this book gets a five out of five stars. Trent Horn, always a topic notch apologist, applies his exceptional skill to the problems inherent in progressive Catholicism. Of the utmost concern to Horn (and yours truly) when it comes to progressive Catholicism, is the effect on the soul it causes. In short, it “celebrates what is evil, and dogmatizes what can be a matter of reasonable disagreement.” Go out and get this book.

Thank you!

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