A disturbing thing about the bishops’ response to the scandals resulting from entrenched homosexuality in the priesthood is that it illustrates the extent to which institutional orthodoxy in the Roman Catholic Church has become dependent on one man, the Pope. The other bishops, it appears, aren’t much interested—certainly not enough to break “collegiality,” which appears to be mostly another form of clericalism. The situation is antitraditional, since tradition is much more a matter of the way of life of a community than the explicit teachings of the community’s highest authorities.
For a long time in Western Christianity the tendency has been for common understandings based on tradition to become less important and centralized authority more so. In the early church bishops were often chosen by acclamation—everyone recognized that a man was meant to be bishop, so that’s what he was. Saints were created the same way for half of Christian history. Various developments—the rise of national states, protestantism, the French Revolution, modern ideologies—seemed to create an ever-greater need for centralization. That tendency reached its peak in modern times. Direct papal appointment of bishops became the rule in the late 19th century, the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined in 1870, and the Oath Against Modernism was imposed on all clergy from 1910 until after Vatican II.
Eventually there was a reaction to centralization, and Church discipline was relaxed. Unfortunately, the conditions that had given rise to the need for centralization were still there. The result is that while Rome’s theoretical authority remains everyone has gone his own way, with consequences we see most vividly in the current scandals. Today we have a super-active Pope churning out encyclicals, visiting continent after continent, and making hundreds of new saints. He makes very little attempt to enforce his views, however, and they are generally ignored when inconvenient.
Something’s obviously gone radically wrong. Loyalty to the Pope and to current magisterial statements is proposed as the remedy, but that seems inadequate if the problem is that the continuity of tradition has been lost. So the restoration of tradition, however difficult, is what’s needed. Without that formal directives from the Vatican are unlikely to be understood, and even if attended to will have nothing to work on.