""Protestantism and Popery are real religions ... but the Via Media, viewed as an integral system, has scarcely had existence except on paper." I grant the objection, though I endeavour to lessen it:—"It still remains to be tried, whether what is called Anglo-Catholicism, the religion of Andrewes, Laud, Hammond, Butler, and Wilson, is capable of being professed, acted on, and maintained on a large sphere of action, or whether it be a mere modification or transition-state of either Romanism or popular Protestantism." I trusted that some day it would prove to be a substantive religion." - John Henry Cardinal Newman "Apologia"
"That there is no perfect equation between the ideal and the real, that actual Catholicism lags considerably behind its idea, that it has never yet appeared in history as a complete and perfect thing, but always as a thing in process of development and laborious growth: such is the testimony of ecclesiastical and social history, and it is unnecessary to establish these points in detail." - Karl Adam "The Spirit of Catholicism" Ch. XIII
The criticism Newman levelled at his own religion after he had abandoned it, that is the via media (Anglo-Catholicism), was that it was merely a paper religion. From my experience in the Roman Catholic Church, I often wonder if my own religion exists merely on paper. It seems like the Catechism and a few conservative theologians (Balthasar, Pope Benedict XVI, and popularizers like George Weigel) are the only places you'll find 'confessional' (if I can use the phrase) Roman Catholicism.
Two examples of this spring to mind:
The first is my recurring problem with Concupiscence and Original Sin. I've asked many priests and Roman Catholics about this issue, and EVERY one of them has given me the Lutheran answer to the issue. Every priest and layperson has in one way or another argued for 'simul iust et peccator' (at the same time just and a sinner, or more idiomatically: at the same time a saint and sinner). I've heard the former bishop of St. Catharines come so close to teaching the doctrine, as well as openly heard another priest in my parish teach it, that I wonder whether there is any realm in the Church where Trent is still "believed and confessed" to be the work of the Spirit. I've heard Anglicans pray to "our mother Jesus" (Julian of Norwich is such a troublemaker), but I've heard Catholics deny the doctrine of Original Sin, claim that they've never heard of Purgatory, much less believed in it, and held views on Justification at odds with those of the Council of Trent. Perhaps Protestants are right in rejoicing at how "Protestant" many Catholics are, and indeed how many -by the Reformers standards- are 'saved'.
The second thing I find ironic in our Communion is how contradictory our doctrine and practice are. Listen to Vatican II's theology of the Liturgy: "every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ... is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). Furthermore the council declared "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows." (Ibid 10).
It all sounds great on paper, but what is the liturgy actually like in the Roman Church? I went to St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, probably the biggest Catholic location in our country, where a Canadian saint is to be canonized and celebrated later this year, and the abomination I experienced there, they dared to call a mass.
During the Liturgy, the priest invented random prayers, he added phrases and stories, he changed liturgical actions, he removed the Kyrie, he added another great Amen after the consecration and then continued to talk in a conversational matter about the acoustics of the room while holding the consecrated host. It was abysmal. The liturgy of the word was nothing more than: God is love, be nice to people, don't be bad. The thing I find ironic, is the claim that the Anglicans only have liberalism and moralism. If that is the case, then we have quickly surpassed them. Throughout all the heresy I've heard (by our own Magesterium's definition) from priests and Catholic teachers and theologians alike, from the disgusting liturgical abuses, I honestly ask this final question:
Is there any point in Roman Catholics retaining the argument that their religion is an empirical reality and that other confessions (specifically Anglo-Catholicism) are merely "paper religions"?