Ed asks "The priests and bishops, who claim to represent the church locally. Joe seems to say it's the individual and the flock, and the rest don't mean much. If so, is that state sustainable? "
Am not sure, but it seems to work that way better. I thik if it was not for those 'on the shop floor', so to speak, adapting and interpreting on an individual level then is could be less sustaianable. They would watch their flock walk away otherwise.
Of course not all Priests are flexible but then see what happens to them and their congregation.
Whilst some RC people are still in fear of the Priest - more than God themself in some ways - I think it is less prevalent these days. Like other Christian churches, Roman Catholics are no different in individual padres living in the real world and actually being more Christian than the faith itself appears to allow. In other words, just because the Pope is supposedly infallible does not mean all see him like that. What issues from his mouth, if seemingly un-Christian, they work around it to try and keep their congregants on a right path.
Some will say this does not happen. I have witnessed, and have some personal experience, that it does. There are some good Priests out there who see beyond the rehetoric and dogma