Sometimes I think my kids have what is common called "selective hearing." This means that they hear and obey me when it is convenient for them, but when it is inconvenient, then they ignore me or claim to have not heard what I said. Most kids engage in this sort of thing at one time or another. And why do they do it? For the purpose of taxing the borders of the permissible as much as they possibly can. They push the envelope until they reach the point where you will not allow them to push it anymore. It has to do with authority and what one can get away with.
It is very obvious to me that many in the Church have selective hearing when it comes to obedience. However, selective hearing is not the only issue here. Another thing my kids do to me is they try to play mother and father against each other. "Dad, mom already said I can do it!" And then, when mom is against them, "Remember mom, dad is the boss of the family and he said we could do it." I think they know they are supposed to obey me ultimately, but they will very quickly place my wife between themselves and I if they think she supports their position better.
When I was at NCYC, I asked a woman flat out who deserved out obedience, the Pope or the bishops. Now of course ideally, obeidence to the Pope should be manifest by obedience to the bishops, who (in theory) should be with the Pope. We all know that is not the reality. So, in the event that there is a divergence between what is coming from the Vatican and what is coming from the USCCB, to whom does our allegiance belong? This woman unreservedly said to the USCCB. But if (and I can't imagine this would happen) the USCCB started taking more orthodox positions and the Vatican started taking heterodox positions, I imagine then she and her kind would all be trumpeting about their loyalty to the Pope in that situation. It has nothing to do with loyalty. It has to do with whoever happens to support your position. By the way, this is not just an issue with liberal or dissenting Catholics; even conservatives and Trads can do this, too.
Take this common example. When the issue of Medjugorje comes up, Medjugorje supporters tend to claim that there has never been a ban on pilgrimages to Medjugorje. When you point out that the local bishops of Mostar have repeatedly forbidden pilgrimages there for the past twenty-odd years, they shrug and say, "Yes, but those are just from the local bishop. The Vatican has never said we can't go there." Clearly in this case, the local bishop's authority counts for nothing at all, even though it falls to him to regulate pilgrimages in his diocese. They will settle for nothing less than a declaration by the Pope in this matter. By the way, the very reason the Vatican has not ruled on this yet is exactly because the Vatican understands that this is the bishop's role and unless the bishops request the Vatican to make a statement, they are not going to. Jesus said, "If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one should rise from the dead." If people refuse to listen to the bishop in his own diocese, then would they listen to the Vatican?
On the other hand, when it comes to things like standing at communion or receiving on the tongue, liberals are very quick to point out that the norm in the United States is standing. When you point out that the Vatican has said that nobody can be denied communion for kneeling and that kneeling has always been the preferred method of reception, they say that nevertheless we must give obedience in these matters to the bishops (the same bishops they ignore in other matters) and that even though we are under Rome nominally (somebody actually said this to me), our first obedience lies with the bishop.
So which is it? Has anybody else experienced this sort of double-speak? Well, just for the record, let's remember that the Pope (not the USCCB) is the visible sign of unity for the Church and its authorative head on earth and that our communion with the Church is determined by our communion with the Bishop of Rome, and with those bishops who are in communion with Rome. The charism of infallibility was not given to the USCCB, but to Peter and his successors.